A chorus of ambience welcomes Angel Olsen’s silver-suited, bolo-tied band of 1963 fantasy to Manchester’s darkened Club Academy, only to have them sink into the background as the velvet-adorned hellcat takes to the stage and turns to azurite as she steps into the spotlight and the open-mouth-kiss evening. S-1 in-hand, the 29-year old freak-folk veteran furrows her brow and laments seeing heaven in another’s face and having to watch them walk away. This introduction only speaks to the shades of Lynchian glamour and death-rattle love that colour Olsen’s lemon-world that she has not only been carving, but exploring since her haunting 2010 cassette-debut Strange Cacti, and this exploration has naturally led her to 2016’s My Woman: a Saturn return record that sees Olsen’s familiar lonely romanticism traded for searching self-possession.

The distance between Olsen and the audience as she looses herself in questions of shadows and pain on emotional burn-out ‘Windows’ could easily be comparative to the distance between islands, as the performance looks far off through on-looking eyes to a different time before grounding the room in ‘Not Gonna Kill You’s vicious, cut-throat impatience. Olsen demonstrates the singular nature of her voice on ‘Heart Shaped Face’ as she manages to hold onto each word – sending the syllables into an endless state of vibrato with an eclipsing sense of effortless control. Pre-flight Xanax ‘Those Were The Days’ holds memories of unquestioned love between lush sheets of parlour smoke and 1950’s lounge, where ‘Forgiven/Forgotten’ throws such memories away in bitter buzzsaw uncertainty.

However, ‘Sister’ holds the key to the evening – marrying both the gentle and primal aspects of Olsen’s music in a divine 8-minute extension to the spiritual. Olsen treats the line “all my life I thought I’d change” as a mantra and, against a flurry of duelling guitars, it swells. Intensity gathers and spins until the contraction of change is finally set free in stateless, thundershower mania, but, on landing, Olsen returns to the same reflections – speaking to how we wish to shape-shift, often do, but are left wanting more for escape.

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James Musker

Music Journalism student and lover of all things sensory and cosmic.