ANGEL OLSEN – My Woman (Jagjaguwar): ‘Pretentious’ is such an overused and abused word (and it doesn’t mean much coming from someone who regularly posts unpaid and unread reviews on a blog) it seems almost meaningless to issue it as a criticism, and for weeks I tried to beat back the impulse within me to chalk up my misgivings to closed-mindedness, but when I heard an interview with Olsen on NPR while driving home I guffawed right there in traffic on the highway. She said this, completely unironically: “If I were to critically compare this record and the last one, I would say the last record is like when you first pick up Dostoyevsky or Kafka and you’re talking with all your friends and you’re like, ‘I understand things now and I’m going to tell people what I understand and it’s going to be important.’ And then this record is more like, ‘I’m going to take a little bit of those things, but I also want to have fun, because fun is important to me.’ ” Ugh.
Add to that incredibly (forgive the unintentional Trumpism) low-energy performances of what sound like high-energy songs such as “Shut Up Kiss Me” on Colbert, for example. Then add her grating habit of pushing words through her teeth (just listen to how she sounds like she’s almost wheezing on “Not Gonna Kill You”) when she has a perfectly fine voice when she sings normally, nearly ruining the top-notch performances her bands turn in on songs like “Never Be Mine,” which could have been a hit by any 60s wall-of-sound girl pop group, or “Sister,” a lost Velvet Underground cut if ever there were one. (Too similar, really, to “Some Kinda Love.”) And for an album that’s supposed to add ‘fun’ to the supposed heavy intellectual weight accompanying her last record, she’s both a downer and short on insight, which I normally wouldn’t care about—these are love songs, mostly, and her wording isn’t as knotty as titles like Burn Your Fire for No Witness would suggest—but I demand in cases where the artist uses humble bragging to her friends about understanding Kafka in a way they don’t as a simile for their pop album. Last bit: In regards to whether she feels like she’s made it, she says she can’t be sure, that you only know “when you play Madison Square Garden or maybe when you play for your mother and she starts crying and she’s finally proud of you, finally in your life. I don’t know. Technically, I’ve made it my whole life because my mom’s been crying to my music forever, so.” I’ll bet she’s a riot at parties. B PLUS (**)