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Anyone reckless enough to have typecast Angel Olsen according to 2013’s Burn Your Fire For No Witness is in for a sizeable surprise with her third album, MY WOMAN. The crunchier, blown-out production of the former is gone, but that fire is now burning wilder. Her disarming, timeless voice is even more front-and-centre than before, and the overall production is lighter. Yet the strange, raw power and slowly unspooling incantations of her previous efforts remain, so anyone who might attempt to pigeonhole Olsen as either an elliptical outsider or a pop personality is going to be wrong whichever way they choose - Olsen continues to reign over the land between the two with a haunting obliqueness and sophisticated grace.
Given its title, and track names like ‘Sister’ and ‘Woman’, it would be easy to read a gender-specific message into MY WOMAN, but Olsen has never played her lyrical content straight. She explains: “I’m definitely using scenes that I’ve replayed in my head, in the same way that I might write a script and manipulate a memory to get it to fit. But I think it’s important that people can interpret things the way that they want to.”
That said, Olsen concedes that if she could locate any theme, whether in the funny, synth-laden ‘Intern’ or the sadder songs which are collected on the record’s latter half, “then it’s maybe the complicated mess of being a woman and wanting to stand up for yourself, while also knowing that there are things you are expected to ignore, almost, for the sake of loving a man. I’m not trying to make a feminist statement with every single record, just because I’m a woman. But I do feel like there are some themes that relate to that, without it being the complete picture.”
Over her two previous albums, she’s given us reverb-shrouded poetic swoons, shadowy folk, grunge-pop band workouts and haunting, finger-picked epics. MY WOMAN is an exhilarating complement to her past work, and one for which Olsen recalibrated her writing/recording approach and methods to enter a new music-making phase. She wrote some songs on the piano she’d bought at the end of the previous album tour, but she later switched it out for synth and/or Mellotron on a few of them, such as the aforementioned ‘Intern’.
MY WOMAN is put together as a proper A-side and a B-side, featuring the punchier, more pop/rock-oriented songs up front, and the longer, more reflective tracks towards the end. The rollicking ‘Shut Up Kiss Me’, for example, appears early on - its nervy grunge quality belying a subtle desperation, as befits any song about the exhaustion point of an impassioned argument. Another crowning moment comes in the form of the melancholic and Velvets-esque ‘Heart-shaped Face’, while the compelling ‘Sister’ and ‘Woman’ are the only songs not sung live. They also both run well over the seven-minute mark: the first being a triumph of reverb-splashed, ‘70s country rock, cast along Fleetwood Mac lines with a Neil Young caged-tiger guitar solo to cap it off. The latter is a wonderful essay in vintage electronic pop and languid, psychedelic soul.
Because her new songs demanded a plurality of voices, Olsen sings in a much broader range of styles on the album, and she brought in guest guitarist Seth Kauffman to augment her regular band of bass player Emily Elhaj, drummer Joshua Jaeger and guitarist Stewart Bronaugh. As for a producer, Olsen took to Justin Raisen, who’s known for his work with Charli XCX, Sky Ferreira and Santigold, as well as opting to record live to tape at LA’s historic Vox Studios.
As the record evolves, you get the sense that the “My Woman” of the title is Olsen herself - absolutely in command, but also willing to bend with the influence of collaborators and circumstances. If ever there was any pressure in the recording process, it’s totally undetectable in the result. An intuitively smart, warmly communicative and fearlessly generous record, MY WOMAN speaks to everyone. That it might confound expectation is just another of its strengths
Within the songs of Laetitia Tamko there are infinite worlds: emotional spaces that grow wider with time, songs within songs that reveal themselves on each listen. Tamko is a multi-instrumentalist and a producer, recording since 2014 as Vagabon. On her forthcoming debut, Infinite Worlds, she hones her singular voice and vision with an unprecedented clarity.
"I feel so small / my feet can barely touch the floor / on the bus where everybody is tall," she sings softly and with caution, as she begin the album with "The Embers." Driving punk drums pry her song open, exploding it into an anthem that pushes back at entitled people who make others feel tiny. "I'm just a small fish / and you're a shark that hates everything," she sings, repeating that line and over and over with strength and power. "I've been hiding in the smallest space / I am dying to go / this is not my home," Tamko starts carefully on "Fear & Force," before her finger-picked guitar playing gives way to slow-building synth claps and ethereal harmonies. "Mal á L'aise" is one of the album's focal points, a five-minute meditation of ambient dream pop, featuring Tamko's usage of samples; some are samples from a Steve Sobs song on which Tamko was featured, enticing the one writing collaboration of the album. "Mal á L'aise" means "discomfort" in French, Tamko's first language, and throughout the song she works through different meanings of that word: social, cultural, physical.
Infinite Worlds builds upon Tamko's stripped-down demos that have been circulating online and throughout the independent music community for the past two years. Her Persian Garden cassette, released in 2014 via Miscreant Records, was a lo-fi collection where she embraced a first-thought best-thought approach, making songs that began with just her voice and guitar. But here, Tamko is a main performer of synths, keyboard, guitars, and drums, at times enlisting the work of session studio musicians. This had Tamko channeling the thoughtfulness of her lyricism into her arrangement and production as well. The result is a wide-ranging eight-song collection that's pleasantly unclassifiable: hypnotic electronic collages, acoustic ballads, and bursts of bright punk sit sideby- side cohesively, all tied together by Tamko's soaring voice.
"I write a lot about places, archiving my memories in spaces that I used to be in, spaces I am currently in, or spaces I will eventually be in" she says. "Archiving different moments that I've been thinking about, have gone through. It's not always autobiographical though. It could be about different situations I've seen people I love in. Or people I don't know in. I think that comes a lot from being in different environments. Like growing up in Cameroon. There, we are happy with very little. Then moving here and seeing how the culture differs from where I'm from."