When Angel Olsen's proper debut, Half Way Home, materialized in 2012, its spare indie folk compositions and subtle references to the greats of '50s country congealed into a restless whole. The album was great, but something in the way the songs connected with each other suggested that Olsen had something far more complex to say that wasn't quite getting through with Half Way Home, despite its fantastically crafted offerings. With Burn Your Fire for No Witness, Olsen expands in all directions, fully reaching the depth of expression hinted at on her last album while still lingering in the restlessness and searching feelings that make all of her work so captivating. Production work from John Congelton adds a different dimension to Olsen's sound, and many of the songs are bolstered with tasteful playing from drummer Josh Jaeger and bassist Stewart Bronaugh, as well as touches of organ, piano, and other various supportive sounds. More than anything, however, the heightened production and instrumentation just help to show how much Olsen's songs have grown and how confident she's become as a performer, even in the space of one album. While still bearing some similarities to Roy Orbison or lesser-known mid-'90s indie singer Edith Frost, Olsen's voice feels more fearlessly her own here, stepping out of the muted shadows to bellow and wail like some wild hybrid of PJ Harvey and Emmylou Harris on a rocking track like "Forgiven/Forgotten" or the more country-seeped "Hi-Five." The heartbreaking seven-minute dirge "White Fire" follows obviously in the footsteps of Leonard Cohen, but manages to succeed in its ambitious tribute, dire and personal rather than simple mimicry. The album seamlessly strolls from soaring numbers like "Lights Out" into a more stripped-down second half before ending with the gorgeous and inspired "Windows." The song's multi-tracked vocals and pained melody get into different territory than anything else on the record, leaving the door open for what's to come next and suggesting that Olsen will continue to push her development exponentially with her next album.
Burn Your Fire for No Witness Review
by Fred Thomas