This is a singers album. Not a songwriters album(though there is a good bit of that), not a folk rock album (though she still keeps it real), not an “indie” pop album (though I can’t help myself from singing the songs on the train). Where as Sharon Van Etten’s pervious albums/eps have showcased her impressive song writing ability, and hinted at the power of her voice, on her latest, Tramp, she embraces her voice creating a florescent barrage of sonic melodies.
Of course since this is singers album the words can become lost in the sea of moods she creates, all the time harmonizing with herself. So when she sweetly, softly, lovingly and honestly tells you that you are about to “dig your own grave” you might just miss it the first time though. Luckily she includes a lyric sheet because she knows how important the words are to her, so why wouldn’t you want to read them?
Starting with the more traditional Warsaw and quickly escalating to Give Out (“you’re the reason why I’ll move to the city / or why I’ll have to leave”), digging even deeper to tell you only part of her mid twenties horror story on Serpents, continuing it on In Line (“tumbling right into ghosts” as written, though I still prefer to believe “Tom Verlaine right into ghosts”), until it all comes crashing together in the beautiful exorcism firestorm I’m Wrong (“tell me I’m funny / even when I’m not” sing it again), and then she quietly places your to sleep in Joke or a Lie (“I am alone / But I am alone in this room with you”).
When I said I sang along, I didn’t mean well, or that I could even attempt to keep up with her. No one can, except maybe Iris Dement, and that only adds to the mystique around the album. Beautiful misery isn’t something that’s novel, but it’s something very tough to pull off with sincerity and openness, otherwise it will come off sounding like a high school emo band or just another one of those flavor of the week types, so long before you say hello types. Van Etten’s escapes this by being completely naked (emotionally speaking) without shying behind opacity.
She’s been emotionally and physically battered and she’s not afraid to confront it, weakness isn’t part of her persona.
Don’t forget that.