Music

Album review

Angel Olsen’s ‘My Woman’ delivers explosive pop confessions

Angel Olsen

Rich Fury/Invision/AP/File 2015

Angel Olsen

The most indelible pop songs are rich with a sense of urgency — a message from the heart, boiled down into four minutes or less and given some banging drums and richly wrung emotions to make the point stick. Angel Olsen knows this. The North Carolina-based musician’s new album “My Woman” is full of vibrant songs that take twists in chronicling the deep-seated feelings that brought them to life. Pugilistic tracks like the fuzz-drenched “Shut Up Kiss Me” contrast with more stretched-out offerings like the fever-dreamy “Woman,” but despite these sonic differences Olsen’s narrators have something in common: More often than not, her protagonists are the types of people who grab you by the collar in order to make their points.

Olsen has been releasing music since 2009, but 2014’s “Burn Your Fire for No Witness” established her as a rock ’n’ roll force, someone who takes the idea of folk-rock confessionalism and explodes it for all to hear. “My Woman” builds on the promise of “Burn” thrillingly and succinctly. Taking a page from the pre-streaming days when flippable media — LPs, cassettes — were pop music’s vehicles of choice, Olsen has loosely organized “My Woman” into an A side and a B side, with the first half focusing on crunch while the second offers up more atmospheric sounds. Side A is all angles: The spiky guitars of “Give It Up” offer a bed of nails for her breathy, passionate plea to reunite with an ex; the dry riffing of “Not Gonna Kill You” holds back while Olsen, wailing in a way that recalls the caterwauls of PJ Harvey, sings of how she “can’t help feeling the way that I do.” The back half, meanwhile, uses droning guitars and languorous rhythms to make its points, with songs like the lullabye-gentle “Sister” unfolding as Olsen seemingly figures out her emotions in real time. It’s a roller coaster, to be sure, but it’s one that Olsen controls with a steady hand even as she sings for her life.

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ESSENTIAL “Shut Up Kiss Me”

Angel Olsen plays The Sinclair in Cambridge Sept. 20 and 21.

Maura Johnston can be reached at maura@maura.com.
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