A few of years back, Sharon Van Etten coaxed a delicate waltz of acoustic hypnotics from whatever was ailing her at the time. Listening to the stories that inhabited Because I Was In Love
, Van Etten's first steps into the indie-verse, her motivations seemed to stem from the inner-messiness of failed relationships. Uncertainty, vulnerability, something still and surrendered; the simple sadness of her first album made it easy to picture the girl at the center of the story held up in a sparse, Brooklyn apartment, the ash tray overflowing with has-been cigarettes, empty bottles of beer littering the floor, and a few weeks' crusty dishes piling up in the sink. Its mostly acoustic sound hardly seemed inspired by a beautiful place...and yet it was.
, her seven-song follow-up, echoed many of Because I Was In Love
's beaten sentiments, but also signaled an emotional shift of sorts for Van Etten; one where the girl was moving on, still a wee bit weary ("A Crime" declared, "Never let myself love like that again"), but now channeling a little honest anger to get by. The collection also thumped a bit more, sonically, as Van Etten paired grungy, electric moments with more experimental vocal approaches. This was a girl learning from her past and growing for her future.
Which brings us to her latest album Tramp
... Recorded in a Ditmas Park garage with The National's Aaron Dessner overseeing things, Tramp
takes her previously recorded material a bit further. The opener, "Warsaw" comes steeped in volume-- a big, garage rocking smack of the tom, a rusty set of support chords, and the warning rattle of tambourine-- suggesting confidence and possible recovery of the inner strength that sounded so ripped from her on previously albums. Tramp
is sadness manifested as anger, hope, and possibly new beginnings. See "Serpents," a striking, emotionally combative rock take, for the full transformation. Building upon a momentous drum-beat and wisps of wide-open slide guitar, Van Etten spits venom on a toxic relationship ("You enjoy sucking on dreams, So I will fall asleep with someone other than you"). Pulling things back just a bit, "In Line" wallows a bit, sonically. It burns slow, echoes tremendously, and conveys isolation with an honest heap of lyrics ("When you were by my side, the world was shitty then") and a weather beaten sound (I'm hearing canyons, somewhere in the windswept west).
Van Etten still dabbles in surreal intensity, via acoustic moments. "Give Out," Tramp
's finest take, is commanding in its' contentious chords...the fork in the road narrative absorbing in its possible duel outcomes ("You're the reason why Ill move to the city. You're why I'll need to leave."). And then there's optimistic hummer "We Are Fine"; a rich and pleasantly optimistic duet with Beirut's Zack Condon (Whisper in my ear, "happy you are here." Everything seems clear, and we're alright.").
"We're Alright." On Tramp
, it's finally believable. That might be the best thing about Van Etten's impressive new collection.
See more of Sharon with her visit to the Guest Apartment.