Sharon Van Etten – Epic

January 01, 1970



(Ba Da Bing!)


The art for Sharon Van Etten’s 2008  Because
I Was in Love
is a sepia-toned pen-and-ink sketch of the artist’s face,
subdued and ghostly and delicate. Her new EP, Epic sports similar imagery, but in brighter, more definite colors.
 In many ways, that’s a good metaphor for
what’s happened to the Brooklyn songwriter’s
music. In two years, Van Etten has moved from the hushed ethereality of her
first album towards a warmer, more propulsive aesthetic, and in the process,
created some of her most compelling songs to date.


You know, right from the first jangly rush of “A Crime,”
that things have changed. Van Etten’s voice is stronger, duskier, surer, easily
able to crest over rough-edged guitar strumming. “Peace Sign” is even more
rock, its forward motion paced by a simple drum beat, its guitars electrified. As
before, Van Etten doubles her own voice for accompaniment, but the secondary
vocals sound here less like ghosts and more like flesh-and-blood back-up
singers. There’s always been a bit of country in Van Etten’s approach, and
piano and pedal steel embellished “Don’t Do It,” brings that element to the
forefront. A little vibrato creeps into the song’s strong, mournful verse, a
little backwoods yodel into the spectral chorus. There’s something elemental
about Van Etten’s performance that simply wasn’t there in the first album.


There’s a hint of dream pop in Van Etten’s best song, a
narcotized haze that makes gorgeous “Don’t Do It” sound a bit like Mazzy Star. Yet
even here, the sound is more rhythmic and rock, less bedroom-pop desolate than
before. There’s a strong beat, eerie reverbed vocals and a shimmer of cymbals
that transform the song into something bigger and brighter than Van Etten’s
early work. The only song that really sounds like the first album comes last on
Epic (though it was recorded first,
chronologically) in “Love More.” Here a bruised accordion drone lingers in
melancholy, and Van Etten’s voice rises like the purest light as she considers
love gone wrong. Yet even here, the imagery is earthier and more grounded –
even a little kinky. “Tied to my bed…I was younger then…I had nothing to
spend…but time on you,” she keens, her own voice curling in clouds around the
central melody. It’s beautiful, but more than that it’s enough to remind you of
how much there was to love about Because
I Was In Love
and how different, and how much further along, this new
effort has turned out to be.



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