TRACK MARKS BEST OF 2014: “Lights Out” by Angel Olsen

This week, writers are recounting the best music of 2014. Today’s Track Marks focus on individual songs from albums that didn’t make our collective top five, but did appear on our individual best-album ballots.

It took me awhile to get into Angel Olsen’s fantastic 2014 record Burn Your Fire For No Witness. This seems to be a pattern with me as I was late in discovering Waxahatchee last year, an artist who shares some surface DNA with Olsen. Both are lone females with shuddery but commanding voices and country-tinged compositions that seem to issue directly from the parts of the American South that rarely get visitors. To me, though, Olsen feels like the more risky, eccentric artist. Even after multiple listens to the album it’s impossible to predict from moment to moment what side of herself she’ll reveal next: brash and boot stomping, sinister and threatening, achy and longing. She could as easily back a bar fight as a slow dance.

“Lights Out” finds her in torch singer mode. It hits at the mid-point of the album and at first seems like something of a comedown before she’ll rev up again in the back half. It starts with a simple guitar line and drum beat, Olsen warbling to an indecisive lover, “If you don’t feel good about it then turn around. If you really mean it baby then stand your ground.” There’s resignation in her voice but also a whiff of impatience. Olsen has spent much of the record grappling with loneliness but she also knows indifference is no substitute for love. The song builds with each verse, adding texture and volume until it bursts open in a moment of fist pumping conviction: “No one’s gonna see your life through, there’s no way.” If Olsen’s voice sometimes sounds like a candle on the verge of going out, this is her as the fire about to consume the house. The torch she’s carrying turns out to be for herself.