Given her credentials, Sharon Van Etten could easily be the new poster-girl for indie-rock hipsters. Born in New Jersey, now based in Brooklyn, signed to Jagjaguwar, recruited The National’s Aaron Dessner to produce and Beirut’s Zach Condon to contribute backing vocals…yep, she’s cool.
Of course she’s miserable as well. At least she sounds that way on Tramp. Van Etten herself has described her songs as “self-therapy”, so you have been warned. “He is over you” she tells herself in the opening song, Warsaw. At the end of the tune she admits, “I love you silently”.
And so it goes. Van Etten plunges the depth of her soul seemingly dissecting every relationship she’s ever had…like picking at a scab.
To be fair, she possesses a wonderful voice, reminiscent of fellow New Jerseysongstress Nicole Atkins (who I like very much). Like Atkins, Van Etten stretches out her vowels and creates little mini-dramas that also recall early Roy Orbison (check out All I Can).
As a producer, Dessner dresses up Van Etten’s downcast songs with slide guitar, mandolin, cello…even a trombone. Condon shows up on two tracks. He sings a verse of We Are Fine…a song that details a panic attack… “Trying hard to breathe, head between my knees. Take my hand and squeeze, say I’m alright”. He also harmonizes on Magic Chords.
A good portion of the tracks start slowly and quietly, then build up in intensity to a dramatic finish. But when they’re done, there’s a sense that it was all just melodramatic bluster.
There are some nice moments on Tramp, particularly during the first half, but Van Etten’s detached voice and ponderous lyrics can begin to sound like a dirge by the end of these dozen songs.
Click here to listen to All I Can from Tramp: