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Sharon Van Etten - Epic? Probably!
on 20 September 2010
To entitle your sophomore album "Epic" is either a signal of outrageous boastfulness or supreme self confidence borne of the assurance that you have recorded an instant classic to rank with some of the years best albums. To add to this you are yet another female singer songwriter making your contribution when the past 12 months already stands jam packed to the rafters with great music within this genre. Yet bless her Sharon Van Etten has not only pushed herself to the front of the queue but recorded an album which is more than just run of the mill sweet folk melancholy but deals with a level of darkness and vulnerability which tends to put her in a linage stemming as much from Janis Joplin or Martha Wainwright as Joni Mitchell. Indeed "Epic" sounds to these ears to carve a distinct acoustic niche in the same way that say Bon Iver's "For Emma" did a couple of years back, and for example when you listen to songs like the lovely "DsharpG" its intensely difficult to locate its influences or musical pedigree except to recognise its all a bit special. Listen now on National Public Radio and set aside the rest of your music collection for a little while.
Sharon Van Etten lists a huge range of influences on her My Space page and echoes as diverse as Vashti Bunyan, Low, Neil Young, Antony & The Johnsons, Gillian Welch, and the Carpenters abound throughout the album. And guess what, kel surprise, she is from Brooklyn the new talent capital of the world with this record representing a step change on her Espers inspired "Because I was in love". This growth can be demonstrably charted on the epic (sorry) "Don't do it" full of swirling guitars almost reminiscent of the best of the Cocteau Twins with a vocal of sweet dissonance that builds to "Cherry Coloured funk" proportions. The opener "A Crime" alternatively is a song of harsh insecurity where Van Etten confesses that she never intends "to let herself be in love like that again" accompanied by a brutally strummed guitar. The regret continues on the blistering "Peace Signs" one of the albums highlights. Send out a search party and contact the constabulary but make sure you find this austere beauty. Van Etten then goes on to confound us with by following this great song with "Save yourself" a sweet(ish) country rock anthem full of slide guitars which could have happily sat on Cat Power's "The Greatest". In the same vein "One day" is a country waltz with echoes of "Cold Roses" era Ryan Adams and none the worse for it. Finally "Love you more" starts out with what sounds like the sparest of accordions, a "Twin Peaks" slower than slow backdrop and one of the best vocal performances I have heard this year, full of shimmering depth and timbre.
"Epic" is by no means a long album at seven songs barely touching 30 minutes but the sounds on this mini album are subversive. They whittle a way into your conciousness and at strange points during your day a melody invades your head or troubles your sleep. From quiet solitude to heartfelt musings "Epic" is a consummate piece of simple art that satisfies your soul. And there you have it; Sharon Van Etten the story begins.....