Album three broadens her already sublime sound while exhibiting greater confidence.
James Skinner 2012-02-01
In 2010 Sharon Van Etten closed her second album with a beautiful drone of a song entitled Love More. Reflecting on a relationship in both tender and rueful terms, it is a striking, haunting thing that wound up the subject of a cover version by Justin Vernon of Bon Iver and Aaron Dessner of The National. Recorded in the garage studio of the latter, Tramp continues the trajectory that got underway with her debut LP Because I Was in Love in 2009, broadening her sound and exhibiting greater confidence while markedly ramping up the volume.
The opening Warsaw clatters out of the speakers, jagged electric guitars and drums courtesy of The Walkmen’s Matt Barrick forming the backdrop upon which Van Etten’s wounded vocals roam, setting the template for a fragmentary record that revels in a dark, sometimes sinister aesthetic. That she was essentially without a home over its recording process is evident over its 12 songs: they blur into each other at first, hallucinatory and shapeless, further listening revealing moments of standalone fury and beauty of the kind that has always been present in her work.
The oppressive nature of its initial salvo – Serpents, in particular, is seething, recriminatory, vicious – eventually gives way to the serene lilt of ukulele-led single Leonard, the first real glimpse of light on the record. Van Etten is nevertheless characteristically frank as she sketches her own culpability in the demise of a relationship, and storm clouds quickly re-gather in the shape of the subsequent In Line, all moody, swelling backing vocals and defiantly slow pace.
Yet over its back-end Tramp begins to open up with greater frequency – a good look for Van Etten. A fleet of guests including Beirut’s Zach Condon, Wye Oak’s Jenn Wasner and Julianna Barwick all make appearances, while on the lovely Ask she offers the lyric "Let’s find something that can last / Like cigarette ash the world is collapsing around me / Let’s try to do the best we can." On an album fraught with insecurity and angst, moments like these feel like hard-won triumphs that were more than worth fighting for.