Sharon Van Etten Review

Sharon Van Etten


Sharon Van Etten Tramp album cover art

There is no shortage of female singer/songwriters. While surely this isn’t the 90’s, when Lilith Fair ruled the pop airwaves, there is still a fair share of females singer/songwriters vying for your attention in 2012, with Adele sweeping the Grammys and other artists from the mainstream (Kelly Clarkson, Colbie Caillat) and indie world (Feist, Regina Spektor) still grabbing tons of radio time.

Sharon Van Etten burst onto the scene in 2010 with Epic, her second album which was only a 7-song mini-LP devoted to an abusive relationship. She didn’t sound terribly unique and was singing about the usual subjects (love, breakups), but she managed to feel like a fresh breath of air in a stale genre for her unique candidness about love and the unbelievable intimacy felt in her music. Van Etten sings as the one abused and hurt in the relationship but while vulnerable, Van Etten sings from a point of strength, having healed, bringing insight and strength from heartbreaking relationships.  Now, the humble New York songstress releases her third album in Tramp, an album that takes her music to a larger scale amplifying rather than sacrificing the simple honesty that made her music great in the first place.

“Warsaw” calls to mind the haunting guitar rock of Jeff Buckley, with Van Etten’s vocals lingering like a ghost of girlfriend’s past. “Give Out” has Van Etten in a chance encounter but protecting her heart from what she seemingly feels to be sure heartbreak over a kick drum and the simple strum of her guitar.

Lead single “Serpents” finds Van Etten seemingly trying to conquer the “Serpents” in her mind, or horrible memories lodged in her brain from hurtful relationships, accompanied by her most menacing instrument accompaniment to date and a great cast of backing singers. “Kevin” lifts beautifully from the dark shroud of serpents, with a simple swaying melody sung with abandon. “Leonard” seemingly finds Van Etten finally meeting a guy that treats her well, yet feels unworthy of such love due to her past over a huge sweeping chorus.

Sharon Van Etten employs a number of other well-regarded indie musicians on Tramp. Most notably the album was produced by Aaron Dessner of the National (with his brother and bandmate Bryce also appearing on the record), who brings his knack for grand sweeping orchestration to the table, but also there are vocal appearances from Juilanna Barwick, Wye Oak’s Jenn Wasner, and Zach Condon aka Beirut.

As a songwriter, Van Etten seems to find comfort and strength in little phrases or melodies repeated like mantras, like the lead refrain on “All I Can” of “we all make mistakes” or repeating “I’m alright” alongside Beirut on “We Are Fine”. These phrases provide incredible emotional substance to the songs as her confidence seems to grow as the songs progress.

Van Etten’s seemingly come from a very intimate place, as she has said that most all of the songs are written for herself to get through tough times, but then she occasionally finds the strength to let these songs out into the world. This sort of self-therapy is often the name of the game in the singer/songwriter world, but with Tramp, Van Etten releases an album that many can relate to that doesn’t feel hokey or sappy, but comes from a beautifully authentic place.


Can’t Miss: “Warsaw”, “Serpents”, “Leonard”

Can’t Hit: “Ask”

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Author: Wes

Hoosier. Writer. Music Buff. Media Man. Tourist. Polar Bear.

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