Exclaim!'s Best of 2014: Top 20 Pop & Rock Albums, Part One

16. Angel Olsen
Burn Your Fire For No Witness

At this year's SXSW Music Festival in Austin, TX, one of the most anticipated debuts was Missouri-born Angel Olsen, who packed the early crowd into the front pews of a 175-year-old church. A more appropriate venue couldn't have been chosen for the singer-songwriter and guitarist; her second album, Burn Your Fire For No Witness, evokes a Southern preacher's sermon, an arresting collection of scorched earth love songs and well-crafted folk ballads about loss and redemption.

Working with producer John Congleton, Olsen's evocative, warbling voice is still centre stage on songs like "Forgiven/Forgotten" and "High And Wild," which crackle with a newfound electricity and feature kick drums that feel like a punt to the heart. While her tone never rises above a conversational murmur on the appropriately titled "Unfucktheworld" and sombre closing number "Windows," there's nothing hushed about the Hank Williams-referencing mid-tempo "Hi-Five," on which Olsen asks "Are you lonely too?" before exclaiming "High five!"

Rarely has solitude sounded so utterly triumphant. (Max Mertens)