American indie singer and songwriter Sharon Van Etten has created a mature, soulful third album in Tramp, being released on label Jagjaguar through Inertia in February. Recorded over a year, Tramp sees Sharon collaborating with talent such as Beirut’s Zach Condon, Matt Barrick of The Walkmans and members of The National.
I wasn’t familiar with all of Sharon Van Etten’s previous work until recently, so a fresh, non-biased review follows, and I will slap myself on the hand for missing the opportunity of discovering her stunning work long ago.
Tramp is a delicate and beautiful third album from Sharon Van Etten. It’s hard not to be in a melancholy mood after listening to it. It is by no means difficult to listen to – it has been crafted beautifully and thoughtfully – it is Sharon’s powerful and at times mournful vocals and lyrics that pull you into her sometimes dark, and certainly emotional, state of mind.
The album’s opening track Warsaw has a daunting feel to it, created by the drawn-out guitar and Sharon’s nonchalant, relaxed vocals, almost giving the track a grungy-style feel to it.
Give Out is a track that gave me a nervous feeling when listening to it, bought about by the quick pace of the music, and Sharon’s vocals give the impression that something big/scary is coming; might be a combination of the lyrics and melody giving off this sense of urgency. Then before you know it, the song is over, leaving you lingering on the melancholy lyrics.
Serpents has many components to it that create a hauntingly beautiful sound. It begins meekly before culminating in a wave of strong vocals, floating backing vocals, and dominant drumming and guitar growing gradually louder and more forceful, falling in line with the seemingly angry lyrics softened by Sharon’s relaxed vocals.
The following few tracks are some of the most stunning on the album. Kevin’s is where we hear a higher and wider range of Sharon’s vocal ability, accompanied simply by acoustic guitar. I can’t help but see the similarities in Sharon’s vocals and style to Radiohead’s Thom Yorke: haunting, calming, full of emotion, enough to make the little hairs on your arms stand on end at times; maybe it’s just my quirky mind that sees any similarities between the two artists! In this track, Sharon has the ability to make you feel emotion as she does. The worst part about Kevin’s is that it is over too soon as all good things are, albeit one of the more lengthy tracks on the album.
You can hear heartbreak in Sharon’s voice in Leonard. Similarly to Kevin’s, this track is stunning for its simplicity and we have another chance to hear Sharon’s raw emotion and delicate vocals against an at times forceful backdrop of sound.
All I Can takes the listener from thoughtful/melancholy to a more sorrowful place, in the best sense of course; the fact that music is able to do that is an amazing thing. All I Can is crafted well in that it doesn’t go too far in making you completely blue as Sharon brings a sense of assertiveness to it, whereas the previous tracks have undertones of sadness or anger. It has a quiet and simple beginning, easing the listener in, and picks up pace late in the song with its tempo change and strong finish.
We Are Fine has more positive undertones to it. It is as if this song is the acceptance of the pain, sorrow and disappointment expressed in the previous tracks, Sharon telling us “I’m alright”, she has weathered the emotional storm and is moving onwards. The following tracks on the album have similar undertones of acceptance and a feeling of moving on from sorrow.
Listening to the album has left me feeling that, as beautifully recorded as it is, maybe we haven’t seen the absolute peak of what Sharon will be capable of offering in future, and that the best and most stunning is yet to come as she continues to grow; the intense lyrics however couldn’t be filled with more emotion than they already are, she seems to have this fine-tuned already. All in all Tramp is a beautiful addition to Sharon Van Etten’s collection and anyone would be doing themselves a favor by listening to what is a very personal and raw collection of emotion and experiences.