In 2010 Angel Olsen ended her debut cassette, Strange Cacti, with an unapologetic imprecation: “Fuck this and everything we’ve done,” she sang over a hard-strummed acoustic guitar, her voice curdled but, somehow, still pleadingly sweet. “Fuck you/ Fuck you and your lies.”
On Burn Your Fire for No Witness, her second full-length album and first for the indie mammoth Jagjaguwar, Olsen remains perched at the corner of romance and reality, sharing the lessons she’s witnessed at the intersection. Its 11 songs reveal a broad and detailed map of hearts both broken and still breaking, and Olsen is an expert cartographer: On the charged “Forgiven/Forgotten,” she wants to hate but can only desperately love, extending and accepting apologies as though they were a life force. Above the fuzzy guitars and gee-golly shuffle beat of “Hi-Five,” she asks another loveless chump to be an emotional partner but sexual stranger. “We’ll keep our legs and arms and lips apart,” she offers. “But I’m giving you my heart.” And with “High and Wild,” she documents young love just at the moment it begins to falter.
Since her debut, however, Olsen’s language has grown more exact, her pen more certain. “I feel so much at once that I could scream,” she sings on “Stars,” from the edge of a storm. “I wish I had the voice of everything.” Olsen’s new band helps her get closer than ever to her goal: After the minimal Strange Cacti, 2012′s Half Way Home featured pedal steel trots and R&B shuffles. Burn Your Fire, produced by John Congleton, pinballs from long gothic ruminations to proper rock ‘n’ roll outbursts, from private solo strums to radiant full band orchestration. It is a proper, wonderful arrival.
This all culminates in closer “Windows,” an organ-abetted hymn that suggests Coldplay turning over its material to Bill Fay. Fragile but steady, Olsen asks for a little help: “Won’t you open a window sometime? What’s so wrong with the light?” She repeats that last line until the band behind her dissolves. Olsen is no longer looking to place blame but instead to spotlight her hardest feelings and burn them before the witness of her own rising sun.