Sharon Van Etten – Tramp (Jagjaguwar)
February 16, 2012 by Aurora Mitchell
There’s been a lot of attention directed towards music from Brooklyn recently. From the 212 breakthrough act Azealia Banks to the man who claims that he’ll bring hip hop back, A$AP Rocky and the incredulously catchy Friends, Brooklyn has been a hot spot for recent hype bands. Like all of the above, Sharon Van Etten resides in Brooklyn but is a world away with her heartfelt folk rock muses. Now on her third album, Van Etten has been building up relations with some well loved names in music. Having spent 14 months sporadically recording with The National’s Aaron Dessner, you can hear some of the grandiosity that The National bring to their music in Tramp. Also featuring collaborations with the likes of Zach Condon from Beirut, Matt Barrick from The Walkmen amongst others, this is no ordinary album.
Van Etten’s vocals carry the weary tone of someone much older than her 30 years who has seen all that the world has to offer and still isn’t happy because the one person that matters more than anything doesn’t seem to care. At other points, there are hints of angelic innocence in her dulcet tones, as if pain and heartbreak are far away in the distant future. The lyrics on Tramp are so personal and emotional that you half expect Van Etten to falter and burst into tears mid song, but she carries each song till the very end like an Olympic torch.
‘Give Out’ tells the tale of the conflict between the reality of love, that nervous feeling of letting your heart get taken by someone and the idealistic view, that you can exude the confidence and charm that romantic films make out to be easy when you love someone. Van Etten portrays this in conflicting lyrics; such as ‘I’m biting my lip/as confidence is speaking to me’, as the first line of each couplet is sung solely by Van Etten and then harmonized in the second, hinting that there are two people inside fighting to emerge as the victorious one. ‘Leonard’ sees her become explicitly self-deprecating, admitting ‘I am bad at loving’ and the theme dominates for the majority of the album, with two tracks being named after men who I can only assume have been part of her life at some point. As she lightly muses, ‘I’m alright’ repeatedly on ‘We Are Fine’, it feels like she’s reassuring everyone that there is a light at the end of the tunnel.
The instrumentation on Tramp is often kept to a minimum, simply frequent guitar strumming and a rolling drum beat but that’s all that’s needed to accompany Van Etten’s wonderful vocals and her short but poignant lyrics. Similarly to how listening to Girls’ second full length Father, Son, Holy Ghost feels like a cathartic experience, we are launched into the inner workings of Sharon Van Etten’s mind. Tramp is well executed and verges on masterpiece as it coherently portrays thoughts from a dark and irrational place and converts them into beautifully crafted lyrics.