The “Lo-Fi” tag is applied to musicians who use fuzz, reverb and dated recording techniques to attain a vintage aesthetic, but to also act as a mask. Reverb is distance, both spatially and as emotionally. This detachment can veil a singer’s technical deficiencies or provide a buffer behind which the songwriter can express vulnerability and remain unexposed. In Angel Olsen’s hands Lo-Fi is a tool she uses to convey themes of loss, separation and most of all alienation, but even though Burn Your Fire for No Witness deals with break-ups, loneliness, and depression, it’s really about hope and empowerment attained through self-enlightenment.
The paradox of “Unfucktheworld,” the album opener, is when Olsen sings, “Here’s to thinking that it all meant so much more/ I kept my mouth shut and opened up the door,” because the song, and the rest of the album, is sung behind a closed door. This is apparent when the song culminates in her repeating the refrain, “I am the only one now.” The song begins with openness and ends with her closing off and she remains closed off. But even at their darkest, these songs ring with sincerity, avoiding the pitfalls of concept albums. There is not a bad song on the album. From the more rock oriented singles “Hi-Five” and “Forgiven/Forgotten” to the lamentation “White Fire” to the triumphant and beautiful closer “Windows,” every song is brilliantly written and performed, because at the heart of all these songs is Olsen’s dynamic vocals. Ranging from quiet, and talkative to the powerful, seductive, Olsen’s voice moves in and out of the reverby distance.
The beautiful “Windows,” is about catharsis and resolution. As she sings, “Won’t you open a window sometime,” it’s like she’s asking for her eyes to be opened to the outside world. The song then slowly crescendos to its climax as Olsen asks, “What’s so wrong with the light?” At the beginning of the album a door is opened but by the end of the album she’s suggesting that we open a window because redemption isn’t found outside of herself but from within. The question is whether the window is opened to let in the light or to let out the light. Either way, Burn Your Fire for No Witness finds hope and meaning where it could have found despair and emptiness.