On Stereogum’s list of the top 10 songs of summer for 2016, some natural oddities floated to the surface. After all, this isn’t a poll of radio jockeys or show promoters, this is a survey of music fans who are aware of both the cultures tastes and the history of the song of summer, but also music dorks who can hear “Golden Days” by Whitney and acknowledge it as something more than just indie rock – after all, it’s indie rock for warm sunny days.
Amongst your indie favorites (Car Seat Headrest, Blood Orange) and your legitimate songs of summer (“No Problem” by Chance the Rapper at #1, “One Dance” by Drake at #3) sat Angel Olsen’s “Shut Up Kiss Me”.
Now regardless of what you think about the timeless tradition of choosing a song of summer, or of Stereogum readership, or of Drake’s “One Dance”, we can all agree Angel Olsen is having a moment, a moment that is suddenly being shared with everyone. Her 2010’s contemporaries would never, or more than likely, could never, dream of being voted with the song of summer. Marissa Nadler? Too ethereal. Sharon Van Etten? Too emotionally dense. Julia Holter? She got close last year but even her music skews too orchestral to fully grasp the the carefree joys of summer. And going down the line there are artists who are either too extreme in their mass appeal (St. Vincent, Courtney Barnett) or not extreme enough (Jessica Pratt, Julien Baker) to capture just how unique this position is. Find me something she’s released that shimmers with such dizzying brightness and radio worthiness while still capturing the essence of her music. That song just doesn’t exist. And suddenly, for better or worse, Angel Olsen is beginning to belong to everyone.
“Shut Up Kiss Me”’s steady near-monosyllabic chorus of “Shut up, kiss me, hold me tight” (or to the common untrained ear, “Shutupkissmeholdmetight”) is one of many memorable but reflexively raw expressions of love spread out across Olsen’s masterful MY WOMAN. “Shut up, kiss me, hold me tight” becomes the songs repeated chorus, and one that is not a to be taken lightly. Olsen regularly finds herself having to repeat just to get the point across both to herself and to us. “You’ll never be mine” she spats over and over again on “Never Be Mine”. “Will you ever know the same love that I’ve known”, she forces out on “Those Were The Days”. Perhaps the most powerful and telling parrot comes on the album’s crown jewel “Sister”, where an unrestrained Olsen fights tears to admit to us: “All my life I thought I’d change.”
Of course, laying it out on the line isn’t new for Olsen. From the hauntingly distant “Drunk and with Dreams” off her 2011 EP Strange Cacti to the breathy and hypnotic whispers on “White Fire” from 2014’s excellent Burn Your Fire For No Witness, Olsen isn’t one to hide her inner monologue. But MY WOMAN builds on Olsen’s music in every way. It’s sometimes larger than life, and sometimes it’s cripplingly meek, but the interplay between these things create an expression of true identity – an album that lets us understand Olsen more than ever before. Take the seven and a half minute epic “Woman”, filled with harrowing synths and echoing vocals, but also apexing guitar solos and a crescendoing finale.”Woman” could easily be the best song on the album, a combative and fearful dare for audiences and the industry to understand both Olsen and her womanhood, but it’s elevated by the previous 8 tracks that have revealed her to be damaged, complex, questioning and hopeful. MY WOMAN’s desire to explore being a woman is quietly universal. Are we all not damaged, complex, questioning and hopeful?
Musically MY WOMAN is a desert mirage of sounds, influenced by the sparser moments of Fleetwood Mac, Dolly Parton, and Loretta Lynn’s discographies. But I hear Patsy Cline more than anyone, an artist whose music also expressed a certain kind of complex but damaged hope from the female perspective; trade in the strings for ripping guitar solos and extend the songs out by one to four minutes, and Cline could’ve been Olsen. Vocally Olsen pushes herself in every way, from tepid mumbles to guttural screams; she’s never appeared more dynamic.
I wonder if Angel Olsen does want a song of summer. “Shut Up Kiss Me” exists in mysterious (and often unexplored) realm of indie pop, the kind that will forever be linked to computer generated Spotify playlists that have Peter, Bjorn and John and Regina Spektor. She had minimally explored inklings of this with Burn Your Fire For No Witness, but she makes further strides on MY WOMAN. “Give It Up” doesn’t shimmer with the same brightness as “Shut Up Kiss Me”, but it’s ruckus in a positive and exciting way that make me think Olsen’s interest in the convoluted and mysterious corners of pop music are still being explored. And I, as well as Stereogum’s readership, find this to be an exciting prospect to be explored further. But then “Sister” comes on, and I’m reminded that Olsen’s damaged and complex soul is far too special and nuanced to belong to them and not us. MY WOMAN is the album for the fading last days of summer, but don’t call it the Album of Summer. Grade: A