[sic] Magazine

Sharon Van Etten – Tramp

Although Sharon Van Etten ‘s third album, Tramp , has been getting a lot of attention because it’s produced by The National ‘s Aaron Dessner and features input from the likes of Beirut ‘s Zach Condon , Wye Oak ‘s Jenn Wassner and The Walkmen ‘s Matt Barrick , I find it striking for two very different reasons.

Firstly, it reminds me of an era of music from my teenage years that I’m especially fond of; and secondly, for an artist who’s receiving a lot of buzz, partly because of her associates but mainly due to her talent, it points to the possibility of some stunning albums in the future. Tramp is far from stunning, but it does have some great moments, some sharp songwriting, a good handling of arrangements, dynamics and atmosphere – and Van Etten’s voice is beautiful.

Her lower register is tentative, tremulous and occasionally off-key, but this vulnerability lends her music an approachable quality. You want to reassure her, you want to listen closely, you want to follow where she’s taking you. Then, when she gets angry, it feels earned, righteous and true.

Single, ‘Serpents’, is one of the better moments, but it does feel like a chorus in search of a more fully realised song. It doesn’t have much in the way of development other than starting off quietly and circling and circling the same chord progression, grinding and grinding away. It’s probably as angry as Van Etten gets, which is a shame because she’s most compelling at her edgiest. The preceding song, ‘Give Out’, is easily her finest moment. It begins hushed, building in tension by never really exploding (in some ways, ‘Serpents’ feels like it could have become the chorus or climax of ‘Give Out’.)

Later in the record, the country lope of ‘In Line’ reaches a cathartic climax thanks to some superb vocals, and the thunderclaps of fuzz guitar that pierce the gleaming arpeggios of ‘Maybe I’m Wrong’ are a welcome burst of life. When amp hum and textural noises make their way into the mix, the music feels more open-ended, lending Van Etten’s songs an extra something that take her beyond the usual singer-songwriter-sitting-in-a-coffee-shop-with-confessional-songs fare.

I want to hear Sharon Van Etten in a studio with a Telecaster and amp turned up to 11, solid rhythm section behind her, and Steve Albini at the desk, letting it all filter through Van Etten’s songwriting personality, raw and naked. I want it to sound more like the era of music from my teenage years that I’m especially fond of: PJ Harvey , Throwing Muses , The Breeders , Belly . That’s the ballpark in which Van Etten seems to hit her home runs; the folkier stuff just doesn’t do it for me.

~Tramp is out now on Jagjaguwar .~

Sharon Van Etten @ myspace