Sharon Van Etten

15 albums, 19 tracks

Alternative/Indie Rock


"Sharon Van Etten"

May 13, 2019

Sharon Van Etten’s Successful Drift From Pure Indie Folk Towards Heavier Music

Written by @Soulbyweekly from SoulByweekly  / 6 mins read

The American Indie-folk musician Sharon Van Etten has recently released her fifth studio album Remind Me Tomorrow on 18th January 2019, five years after her last album was released in 2014. This album is very different from her previous ones in terms of sound as some pop, jazz and rock elements have been added to her traditional indie-folk music style. Rather, some tracks make it sound more like a pop/rock music based album rather than a folk album. This album has been termed as one of her most evolutionary works by some critics. It has been overall intriguing with a sense of maturity being observed in music, vocals and lyrics. Heavy use of drums, electric guitars, synths and other ambient electronic instrumentation has been noticed, that takes the album to a next level as she has worked much on rock-oriented music. The music here is a blend of the traditional indie-folk and new-age rock elements. Some of the tracks are more emotionally appealing, like “Seventeen”, “Jupiter 4” and “Comeback Kid”. The album cover might look messy but is captivating if viewed closely, as it shows a childhood photograph of Van Etten amidst a mess of a child’s bedroom with toys scattered all around. The album is blended with overwhelming emotional feelings that include joys, struggles and anxious moments of life. There have been some Bruce Springsteen and Nick Cave influences observed other than 80s music. The album overall received more or less decent reviews from the music critics. The album was rated 4 out of 5 stars by The Guardian, 3.5 by Chicago Tribune and 8.4 out of 10 on Pitchfork. It received an aggregate score of 86 on Metacritic which is a pretty decent number, with all positive reviews from the professional music critics.

Calling Out To Her Younger Self

This song takes her back when she was a teenage girl living in New York City, and how her life and the city have changed since then. She was a grown up woman singing to her own self in the past. Some abstract elements in the video made it more attractive, where she in her present days and her seventeen years old semblance appeared multiple times together in the same frame to build a contrast and how she was trying to get back those memories in the ever-changing city and lifestyle. The music video also suggests that she recollected her teenage memories in New York. This idea can be generated by the fact that the video starts with Sharon visiting and travelling across the city watching how it has changed since she lived and grew up there. She had been living in an uncertainty about the future, but now she is a grown up woman with a well-settled life. Some old spots in the city were still there, while many have changed significantly. Internet sources suggest that Sharon, in an interview said that this song illustrates "the chain reaction, of moving to a city bright-eyed and hearing the elders complain about the city changing, and then being around long enough to know what they were talking about". Around 2:30 minutes in the music video, Sharon is seen observing her reflection in the window of a train, imagining her teenage appearance and how she did the same In those days. Use of electronic instruments and ambient score in the background makes it more pleasing to listen. Overall, the song is a beautiful portrayal of a teenage city girl living amidst ups and downs, hopes for the future and how her life has changed along with the city she lived in.

A Beautiful Love Ballad Mixed With Ambient Tunes

“Malibu” is one of the most beautiful tracks in the album. The track doesn’t come along with a video, yet the soft music played in major scale and the piano sounds with added ambient electronic sounds within the song makes it very pleasing to the ears. This is certainly an addition to the beautiful folk and country love ballads which the musicians have composed over the years. The tunes sound very familiar, yet every single note in the song can be felt and embraced. It speaks of a road trip in a little red car with her beloved along the west coast of the United States. This is similar to many of the songs she composed previously based on similar scenarios. Yet, she says “In the little red car that don't belong to you”, which gives an idea that she is fantasizing the scenario even though she is living another life with her beloved.. The lyric in one part in the song says, “I walked in the door, The Black Crowes playing as you cleaned the floor, I thought I couldn't love him any more”. In this context, The New Yorker magazine adds, “The difference, this time, is that the fantasy turns real, domestic”. Thus, it is clear that she did keep her usual songwriting style intact, while bringing in instances from the reality.

Inspiration From 80s Rock Music – Strength And Power

This is undoubtedly one of her most powerful songs, if not the most. The music video of “Comeback Kid” was released in October 2018. The use of heavy electronic instruments, drums and the rock music style of composition make it stand out from her other tracks in this album as well as her previous compositions with its strength and power.. Her vocal techniques are also very different as she has used more power in her voice and I could personally feel that it sounded like 70s and 80s rock music to some extent. This is something she never did before. In the music video, Sharon is seen standing in front of a projector with a giant screen behind her with a lot of abstract photos from her gallery and animations going across the screen creating a wonderful collage. The images were often disconnected to one another. An article published in the online version of Rolling Stone suggests that Sharon in a statement said while writing the lyrics she imagined a projector streaming over her of different memories even though they are not connected to each other. It seems like she has finally come out of her pain and trauma, however, she urges not to look back at the same time. The sound here in this track has been the major point of attraction and not the lyrics. The heavier and charged up music depicts passion, aggression and daring to the world. But mostly, the track is a milestone of her music that changed from traditional softer country/folk sound to a much stronger and powerful sound using rock and other electronic music elements.

Apr 12, 2019

Indie Folk Haunted By Sharon Van Etten’s Lyrics And Harmonies, ‘Tramp’ Is A Mesmerizing Example Of The Genre

Written by @taylor / 6 mins read

I discovered Sharon Van Etten on the radio only a couple of months ago, blown away by what I considered to be a haunting new rock voice with the presence of Stevie Nicks during the Fleetwood Mac days, though Etten’s is her own distinctive style indeed – her own contralto which leans towards folk. When discovering somebody so new and exciting for me, I like to glance at their entire album catalogue and split the difference as to what I will listen to first. In this way, I find that I can establish a baseline of style, because the debut stuff is going to be one end of the spectrum, and the recent stuff the other. Listening to studio album number three, Tramp, I was somewhat surprised that it didn’t feature much electronic elements at all, like the newer songs I had heard already, such as “Seventeen” and “No One’s Easy to Love.” Tramp is indie folk, with some alternative rock edge that gets raw and weird in some great places. Some of that great energy is courtesy of producer Aaron Dresner’s deft hand at the controls (he is from a really exceptional band called The National.) I suppose during the 2010s when Tramp came out (2012), I for that time period was anti indie folk because I could not properly differentiate between so many artists doing what I felt sounded like the same depressing acoustic coffeehouse music, and probably would have not listened deep enough to an album such as this one. My tastes have changed to include all types of music and musicians from the genre (just also discovered Conor Oberst of Bright Eyes) and it has been quite a revelation to hear that they do all have an individual enough sound. Stacked against such talents, Sharon Van Etten is up there with the best of them.

The Music Exists To Support The Central Figure Of Van Etten’s Voice

I can pick any song on Tramp and provide an example of Sharon Van Etten’s superior vocal skills, especially for the sub genre here – yet more than just singing well, she sings creatively, clearly attracted to the human side of music and musical arrangement, always looking to bend the voice and subsequently the rules, in the end producing work that is an individual artistic statement, because it comes from one unique interpretation of how to blend harmonies. I find myself listening again and again for new details within the vocals of several songs, such as “Ask”, which goes nowhere but the unexpected, especially in the warped sound of the background overdubs. I ask myself – what key is any of that man’? But it sounds so interesting, begging further and further attention. Van Etten’s vocals aren’t always low and semi-raspy – sometimes she spends much of a song in the falsetto range, such as on “Kevin’s”, yet more so here, her full range is eventually employed, and not to mention some serious and haunting accented twang on some of the words that probably was accompanied by a snarl in the vocal booth. Her voice harmonies go psychedelic on “I’m Wrong”, where again, she successfully approaches the edge of the cliff of what should even be acceptable, sending her voice on wild trajectories and becoming just as weird as the squelching buzz that grows louder in an ultimately very symphonic movement.

Whimsical Folk Moments With An Unsettling Twist

One specific quality I attribute to Sharon Van Etten which makes the biggest impression on me is her ability to go discordant on her vocal harmonies. The music that moves me is the kind that seeks to twist the melodies. A prime example of this dark magician action is with the song “We Are Fine.” At first, I’m like – ‘nope, heard this indie folk type of strumming and mournful swing to the vocal verses plenty of times.’ But what could have been mere ukulele music builds on something that gets spookier and spookier, until the mood shifts from light to dark thanks to super off vocal tones as they creep in layer upon layer, stretching out into witchy moans which line up expertly with reverbed guitar notes pushing out towards the void. “We Are Fine” thus becomes something so much more compelling and emotional – a perfect sound bed for a character study about co-dependency; “tell me not to trip or to lose sight / you are walking in my guided light / take my hand and help me not to shake / say I'm alright, I'm alright.” I do not know exactly what the character is ailing from, and though it could be just that she doubts her partner’s true love and wants him to reassure her, the most likely culprit is a crippling bout of anxiety, as hinted at within the lyrics “trying hard to breathe, head between my knees / take my hand and squeeze, say I'm alright.” I am all for indie folk that challenges through off the beaten path arrangements and arresting lyrics.

But It’s Also About The Chords

I am getting such a dark yet beautiful mood from the death march percussion and somber tone of the organ playing on “Magic Chords”, a combination that puts me in a trance. I close my eyes and nod in affirmation to both the beat and the curious lyrics; “you're talking too loud / won't you walk over, whisper / motion hands or bat a lash? / You gotta see there's too many eyes / you're walking too fast / why the hurry? Let me pace myself / no need to run a lap / you gotta lead.” The chords are compelling and capture both the bright moments and the unsettling moments masterfully. At first, I thought this might all be about someone she knows, like a lover, being arrogant in public and embarrassing her. Eventually, I came to feel that the content seemed to in fact describe a relationship that she is not ready for – and her partner is advancing too fast. Other wonderful chord moments occur especially on “Joke or a Lie”, where upon first listening, I have no idea where this heartbreakingly beautiful melody is venturing. The strings in the background never break, but keep swirling with these extremely touching and resonating notes whose progression bleeds rather than perceptively transitions. Van Etten as always finds the right complimentary tones to voice. Likewise on the biggest hit “Serpent” as it builds in layer upon layer of bad ass chords this time – exactly the type of sonic attitude associated with The National, and a nod to the producer Aaron Dessner. Truly excellent elements from excellent talents, and Van Etten can do no wrong in my book, thanks to her mesmerizing voice, ear for the right notes/chords, and complex and poetic lyrics.

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