Sharon Van Etten
“Singer-songwriter” can be a damning epithet, since the music world is overpopulated with individuals wanting to express themselves with their guitars. The expectation of expressiveness too often ends up pigeonholing female musicians in the confessional genre (that dogs women in film and literature as well). Though Sharon Van Etten fits squarely within this sometimes tired category, Tramp pushes beyond those limits to offer something truly exciting. On her third album, and first for Jagjaguwar, Van Etten expands her sound with intense arrangements, winding guitars, menacing strings, and melancholy vocal tracks. The lead single, “Serpents”, sums up the success of the album: a slow build that never gives up till it boils over. “We are Fine” shows off Van Etten’s melodic prowess, but luckily coats the quintessential guitar strumming with flexing muscles. Van Etten’s expressiveness is filtered through mumbled delivery, not a sign of self-consciousness, but a hazy world-weariness that matches the richness and strength of Tramp.—Scott Branson
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