Music Reviews
4:04 pm
Thu February 9, 2012

Sharon Van Etten: Hypnotically Complicated

Originally published on Thu February 9, 2012 7:58 pm

Like most pop singers, Sharon Van Etten seems to love repetition — a technique used aggressively in ad jingles and Top 40 hits, but also in more hypnotic and emotionally complicated ways. Van Etten's new record, Tramp, is full of repeated riffs, drones and phonemes, and they're more intense and emotionally packed than ever. Songs like "Serpents" display her expansive voice and coiled songwriting, and are earning Van Etten a good deal of attention.

Van Etten's first record, Because I Was In Love, was an album-length swoon of sad folk songs with just a whiff of rock 'n' roll musk. Tramp stinks of it more, in the most potent way — even when it's hushed, which is quite often. The record still centers and soars on that remarkable voice, which begins with the haunting timbre and phrasing of Karen Dalton and Joni Mitchell, and ends with the bruised muscularity of Van Etten's New Jersey rock forbears, Patti Smith and Debbie Harry.

Van Etten titled her record Tramp because, as a low-budget touring musician, she was essentially homeless, living on the road — though clearly she's playing with the word's other connotations, too. She now lives in Brooklyn, where she made the album with an all-star gang of kindred young rock musicians, so it seems she has found a home after all. But the album's dark beauty resides in its unresolved restlessness, its infinite-loop longing — which may be why, every time it ends, I want to play it again.

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Transcript

AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

And we end this hour with a musician who is getting a lot of buzz this winter. Sharon Van Etten is a New Jersey-bred singer/songwriter. She's now released her second album called "Tramp."

Our critic, Will Hermes, has this review.

WILL HERMES, BYLINE: Like most pop singers, Sharon Van Etten seems to love repetition, a technique used aggressively in ad jingles and top 40 chart hits, but also in more hypnotic and emotionally complicated ways, like on this song from Van Etten's last record.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "DON'T DO IT")

SHARON VAN ETTEN: (Singing) And you want to do it and you want to do it. If you want to do it, you are going to do it, even if I don't want you to.

HERMES: And on her new record, "Tramp," the repeated riffs, drones and phonemes have gotten even more intense.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "SERPENTS")

ETTEN: (Singing) Serpents in my mind. I'm searching for your cries. Everything changes in time. You stay frozen in time (unintelligible). You hold the mirror to everybody else.

HERMES: "Because I Was In Love," Sharon Van Etten's first record, was an album-length swoon of sad folk songs with just a whiff of rock and roll musk. "Tramp" stinks of it more in the most potent way, even when it's hushed, which is quite often. The record still centers and soars on that remarkable voice, which begins with the haunting timbre and phrasing of Karen Dalton and Joni Mitchell and ends with the bruised muscularity of Van Etten's New Jersey rock forbears, Patti Smith and Debbie Harry.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

HERMES: Sharon Van Etten titled her record "Tramp" because, as a low budget touring musician, she was essentially homeless, living on the road, though clearly she's playing with the word's other connotations, too.

She now lives in Brooklyn, where she made the album with an all-star gang of kindred young rock musicians, so I guess she found a home, after all. But the album's dark beauty is in its unresolved restlessness, its infinite loop longing, which may be why, every time it ends, I want to play it again.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "WE ARE FINE")

ETTEN: (Singing) Trying hard to breathe.

CORNISH: The new album from Sharon Van Etten is called "Tramp." Our critic, Will Hermes, is author of the book, "Love Goes to Buildings on Fire."

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "WE ARE FINE")

ETTEN: (Singing) Head between my knees. Take my... Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.