Sharon Van Etten // Tramp // February 6 // Jagjaguwar
Van Etten’s early recording come really close to defining what bedroom indie folk is. They were quiet, introverted and did not contain any hints that she might break out of her little world and acquire a bigger sound. Surprisingly that is exactly what is happening on her Jagjaguwar debut Tramp, twelve songs mixing folk and indie rock.
Unlike her previous efforts, Tramp shows Van Etten being perfectly comfortable in her own skin. The album is louder and better produced while still retaining that introverted feel of her first two albums: Because I Was In Love and Epic. As a folk artist, Van Etten is expected to break out the stories. Luckily, her life has been one colourful story so far. From abusive boyfriends to being homeless, she has seen some bad times and her lyrics reflect that. That said, the lyrical matter is quite generic and does not fully reflect her as a person. It’s one thing to write stuff that people could relate to and another to put a bit of yourself in it. Sometimes Van Etten feels like she’s reading someone else’s stories instead of retelling her own.
The production comes from Aaron Dessner from The National. He brings the much needed details that make the album a more or less captivating listen from front to back. While the album shies from opening quickly, the only songs that stick out on first few spins are Give Out and Magic Chords, it has a lot of substance that slowly unfolds in listener’s ears. That kind of slow burning quality that made Grizzly Bear’s Veckatimest an essential LP for modern folk fans. Although unlike that record, Tramp has it’s cliches and limitations. The instruments tend to overshadow Van Etten’s voice. Ultimately, it’s only there to back the lyrics and tends to get repetitive and boring on some of the more vocally based songs on here.
Tramp offers some interesting stories and the lyrics that are going to make people feel empowered or something. I still feel slightly underwhelmed though. Knowing all the things she has been through, Tramp should’ve been a grandiose call to arms about overcoming adversities. Sadly it comes across as anticlimactic. I guess real life isn’t all about such epic moments, Tramp, above all, is about reality.