Sharon Van Etten on the AV Club's AV Undercover performing the Fine Young Cannibals' "She Drives Me Crazy," I've been enamored. Van Etten's slow, wistful, and sad, but charming delivery on that cover evoked full and pure passion, the kind that one can only recreate with experience in lost love and confusion. With Tramp, Van Etten assembles an album that reaches new heights in frankness, earnestness, and beauty. All these characteristics are most elemental on "Give Out" where Van Etten sings the lines: "You're the reason why I'll move to the city/ Or why I'll need to leave." It's a case of pure honesty, and a case where, as a listener, you have that "I should have thought of that!" moment. The peppier, but folksy "Serpents" discusses change, in people, and how we're never simply standing still. But, the delicate "Kevin's" is the album's deeply heartfelt love letter. It's a sultry piece of desire and heartbreak and loss of control. Tramp is infused with folk, country, and rock elements, but it lives and dies by Van Etten's memorable, iconic vocals. That, and those aforementioned high quality lyrics.
The album occasionally feels like a dream. As a testament to its layering and Van Etten's calm-aggression, on a song like "In Line" she gets Feist-y, well, and feisty too, but primarily, her poetic softness sounds strongly and not at all parroting like the solid tracks from The Reminder. There are experiments here, but most of them exist because of ambiance rather than strange instrumentation or complex arrangements. The slow-building, partially chorale, "All I Can" is just such an example. Van Etten smoothly transitions genre, from a whispering bit of church pastoral to a rumbling, tumbling slow-rock with subtle Beirut-esque horns. The beautifully harmonized "We Are Fine," seems almost to protest too much lyrically, as the male and female vocals refrain "I'm alright/ I'm alright" over and over. That's what we do sometimes, when it comes to love, when it comes to preservation. Because the power of words lies not only in our ability to utter them, but also in our ability to use them to convince ourselves, to advocate to our own subconscious. The highlight of the last half of the album is the run from "Magic Chords" to "I'm Wrong," and it all ends with elegant beauty in "Joke or a Lie," a song about becoming comfortable with having tried.
Listen to Tramp on Spotify here. You'll love it. Van Etten is excellent.
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