We crave authenticity in rock and roll above all else. We need to know that our icons are the real deal, that they live the words they write, that they hurt and bleed like the rest of us. Authenticity is the currency of the true greats – a host of plastic pretenders fall off the production line with a wearying regularity, but it's the ones with '4 real' scratched in blood that capture our hearts and hold us forever in their thrall.
Barely a minute into Burn Your Fire For No Witness Angel Olsen sings 'if all the trouble in my heart would only mend' in a cracked, quivering voice and we know, instantly, she means it. All doubts are banished. 'Unfucktheworld' is the first track off an album that burns with a confessional intensity that is frightening. We are bearing witness to heartbreak and meltdown, to a tearing apart at the seams and yes it's painful, but painful in a curiously cathartic way. There is a quiet, stoic rage in the way these songs are delivered – Olsen moves from the giddy, grunge revenge of 'Forgiven/Forgotten' to the distracted numbness of 'White Fire', all the time commanding centre stage, at the heart of the maelstrom.
This is a record that isn't so much produced as disassembled, leaving just the bare bones. It comes as almost a jolt to hear a contemporary album that has not been compressed, auto tuned, processed, digitised and perfected to a point where the songs have lost all feeling; we get to hear electric guitar, bass, drums and vocals in their raw, elemental state, and God, it sounds good.
Early PJ Harvey and Cat Power are reference points, but in reality this is the work of a unique and powerful voice, a maverick spirit with her own story to tell.
The anguished beauty of the startling 'Enemy' and the stunning 'Windows' close the album, two highlights on an album that pulls us in and holds us there, spellbound.
Everything that's good about rock music can be found etched in the pain and beauty of these gripping, compelling songs. Highly recommended.
Review by Paul Page