Tuesday, March 27, 2012

REVIEW: Sharon Van Etten - Tramp

There is so much hype on Sharon Van Etten and her new CD Tramp, that I almost hesitate to weigh in since this blog usually highlights artists who have a much lower profile.

But as our masthead declares, at this blog we write about music we like. And I like Tramp a lot, although I didn't realize it at first. What is going on here is subtle magic and it took me awhile to get it.

These songs are confessional, articulate, and smartly produced by Aaron Dessner (a member of WYMA favorite The National). What stands out most are Van Etten's multi-tracked vocals, which create striking harmonies that draw you in for a spellbinding effect. Van Etten's beautiful voice and this recording technique greatly add to the power of the songs, and manage to dial things up dramatically without adding unnecessary noise or layers of instruments that would threaten the immediacy of the vocals and the compositions themselves.

Here's a very cool video for the song "Leonard", a beautiful post break-up lament:

While much of the record is relatively quiet, it does have its noisier moments. The songs are served well by Matt Barrick of the Walkmen whose drumming sounds remarkably good, like here on "Serpents:":

But quiet does not equate here with any lack of intensity. Tramp does a slow burn and will grab you by the throat. As with peers such as PJ Harvey or Cat Power, there's real power in this kind of fearless singing, candor, and tuneful elegance.

Van Etten began her music career while a student at Middle Tennessee State University, not far from Nashville. She now lives in Brooklyn where Tramp was recorded. Hard to find many better locales than Nashville and NYC to find your songwriting voice. Van Etten seems fully formed as an artist on Tramp, taking a big step up from her previous work which oozed with the potential fully realized here.

When she sings on "Serpents": "I had a thought you would take me seriously and listen, but..." she is speaking to an old boyfriend, certainly not the big audience she is finding with this record. (Here is a download of "Serpents" made available by her label, Jagjaguwar Records)

The level of confidence shown by Ms. Van Etten in both the writing and performances throughout Tramp is a rare thing. Tramp is a complete record, best enjoyed in its entirety, the whole in many ways grander even than the sum of its parts. This record is going to populate a great many 'Best of 2012' year end lists. Very highly recommended.


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