Album Review: Tramp Sharon Van Etten

25 March 2012 | 9:06 am | Staff Writer

An artist with a cultured sense of aesthetics and a masterly voice, Tramp nonetheless confirms that Van Etten needs to fine-tune her writing before she earns her gold card.

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Inspired by a period of homelessness during the album's protracted 14-month recording, Tramp is a mixed bag of anguished ruminations from the highly touted Brooklynite. Enlisted as producer, The National's Aaron Dessner lends the stately sound dynamics his band have mastered, and brings with him a jamboree of Pitchfork-endorsed darlings. These include other members of The National, Julianna Barwick (her last record The Magic Place should be mandatory listening for anyone with relaxation issues) who adds subtle, transformative vocal textures, and Beirut's Zach Condon.

What strikes first is Van Etten's authoritative voice, which seems to bear the marks of great hardship, as exemplified on the compelling Serpents. All I Can is a convincing attempt at a gradually building, cathartic anthem and there are some sturdy, semi-acoustic numbers with an airy, quixotic feel, as if bashed out atop some smoky blue-ridged mountains. But there seems to be a budding cult of personality regarding Ms Van Etten, which lights fires in the hearts of afflicted indie hipsters and disguises the reality that her 'poetical' lyrics are frustratingly vague and often hammier than a 4am B-movie. “You enjoy sucking on dreams,” she exposes. Really? Do go on. “Calling my heart and know you are real/but my memory steals every moment I can feel.” That sounds unfortunate. ”Buried in masculine pain all the time...” Alright, that's probably enough.

An artist with a cultured sense of aesthetics and a masterly voice, Tramp nonetheless confirms that Van Etten needs to fine-tune her writing before she earns her gold card.