There are some bands, artists, singers, albums, even entire genres of music, which cannot be analyzed or dissected without losing some of their magic. Sharon Van Etten’s most recent album Tramp, is one such album, and Sharon Van Etten is one such artist. So heartfelt and beautifully delicate are the songs on Tramp that any close inspection feels as though it will topple the carefully constructed magic, making the task of reviewing it fairly difficult. Musically, Tramp is not entirely different from many of the artists loosely associated with Van Etten. There are swelling strings and brass reminiscent of it’s producer Aaron Dessner’s band The National, there are delicate, dreamy love songs reminiscent of her label-mate Bon Iver. Van Etten is not as heart-stoppingly brilliant as either of those artists, but that is not to say Tramp doesn’t have stunning moments.
The striking album highlight ‘I’m Wrong’ features atmospheric washes of noise and blasts of brass, lending gravitas and feeling to simplistic lyrics about being mister-understood (“Tell me I’m funny, even if I’m not”). Elsewhere the lyrics are plain, heartfelt and uncomplicated, which makes the album all the more emotionally resonant and relatable for the listener. Van Etten’s vocals really flesh out the album as a whole and hammer home the emotions she is trying to evoke. Occasionally soaring and powerful, but often fragile, delicate, and hushed, her voice is a tool she uses, much like Bon Iver, to manipulate feelings within the listener regardless of the lyrics themselves. Her music seems primarily concerned with creating an intangible atmosphere, a opposed to specifically describing cold hard details.
Occasionally, the album flirts with slightly more hard hitting indie rock, on tracks such as ‘Serpents’ and ‘In Line’, which lends the album some variety. This revolving backdrop of luscious, folky pop, dark, moody guitar rock and everything in between works as the perfect backdrop for Van Etten’s voice, which is not naturally the most varied element of the record. The forays into genuine rock music is reminiscent of St. Vincent’s astounding 2011 album ‘Strange Mercy’. Whilst Tramp is certainly nowhere near as wildly varied and endlessly inventive as that album, it certainly has some of it’s special, sparkling quality.
The album’s real moment of stand-out beauty is the dazzling, heartbreaking ‘Kevin’s’. Van Etten croons about feeling “buried in masculine pain, all the time”, conjuring up images of what it is to be male and female in the modern world, over mournful, melancholy acoustic guitar strums that recall every beautiful, sad folk album made since the beginning of time. Tracks like this demonstrate that Van Etten is a songwriting talent to watch, who definitely has a long career ahead of her.
Released on 7th February 2012 by Jagjaguwar