Wednesday, 12 March 2014
reviews: Angel Olsen, Withered Hand, The Birthday Suit
Angel Olsen - Burn Your Fire For No Witness (****)
Four songs into her exquisite second LP, Angel Olsen’s deeply expressive voice alights upon the album’s title. "If you’ve still got some light in you then go before it’s gone," she whispers over skeletal arpeggios, "and burn your fire for no witness, it’s the only way to die." Suddenly, a phrase that in isolation suggested defiance becomes profoundly sad; just one example of Olsen’s acute lyrical gifts.
The song in question (White Fire) is a fragile solo performance, and thus harks back to Olsen’s delicate debut Half Way Home. But elsewhere, Burn Your Fire for No Witness proves a bolder, more assertive expression of the Missouri-born songwriter’s talents, with Forgiven/Forgotten delivering crunchy, Breeders-like guitars and Hi-Five dressing its country crooning in distorting fuzz. Furthermore, upping the volume in this way renders the remaining quiet moments all the more intimate, with Windows a starkly emotional conclusion to an album of true beauty.
Withered Hand - New Gods (****)
With a title that near-anagrams its 2009 precursor Good News, New Gods sees Withered Hand (aka Edinburgh-based songwriter Dan Willson) gently shuffle aspects of his sound around, producing an album that’s distinct from yet recognisably connected to what came before. Production choices inspire the most noticeable alterations, with markedly more polish and a plethora of radio-friendly touches imparted by time in a “proper studio” with producer Tony Doogan.
It’s a shift that provokes mixed feelings. On opener Horseshoe, amongst others, it helps the material soar, urging you to sing along with the lyrical sucker punches. But elsewhere the shininess risks diminishing Willson’s individualism, threatening to draw attention away from the subtlety, intimacy and endearing awkwardness that typically flavours his songwriting. But that’s a minor complaint: throughout, New Gods affirms Willson’s superlative abilities, with highlights ranging from the airport insecurities of Love Over Desire to the communal courage expressed in closer Not Alone.
The Birthday Suit - A Hollow Hole of Riches (***)
As far as fan gestures go, trying to force a band reunion by boycotting the members’ other musical outlets is neither the most gracious nor thoughtful. Hence when a campaign to that end appeared online last year, directed at the projects supposedly distracting Idlewild from following up Post Electric Blues, it seemed only to strengthen guitarist Rod Jones’ commitment to post-Post gig The Birthday Suit.
While Idlewild have since confirmed they’re working on new material after all, A Hollow Hole of Riches stridently affirms that The Birthday Suit weren’t forced out to pasture in the process. On the contrary, Jones’ third album under the moniker finds him at his most confident and persuasive, with rousing opener A Bigger World the first of several aspirant anthems. Not everything that follows is of equally high calibre, but as a whole it brims with a drive and passion that’s easy to buy into.