Tag Archives: sharon van etten

‘Tramp’, or The Reason I Don’t Have a Top 10 List This Year

There are two more weeks of 2012, and the Internet is teeming with year-end countdowns of newsworthy moments, reality TV highlights, and – of course – music. While every other college radio DJ/music blogger out there has published a list of what they think was worth listening to this year, I’ve come to an unsettling realization, one that I hope to God does not discredit me in the field I want to enter. It’s embarrassing to admit, but it’s something I feel the need to share, nonetheless.

I could give a damn about the vast majority of the music released in 2012.

As I examine the iTunes playlist of music I’ve acquired this year, I see 1561 songs – 4.4 full days of music – that have been added in 2012. I’ve listened to half of those songs, but listened to only half of those more than once. A compulsive critic of the tracks in my iTunes library, I find that I considered only 6% of my music added in 2012 worthy of four or five stars.

Thinking about this, I’m ashamed. I started AMPlify in July and wrote a similar column for a student newspaper this semester. I even wrote a piece about what music I did and didn’t like this year, a sort of modified list of top albums. I’ll be frank, though – I was in a time crunch and did not give the full weight (or non-weight, as it were) to the music I wrote about. If I could go back a few weeks in time, this is the column I would have submitted.

I’ve heard Japandroids and Ty Segall and and most of the other artists with whom every music critic seems to have been enraptured this year. The simple truth is that I almost always ignored the new releases after a listen or two and returned to Sharon Van Etten’s Tramp instead. It was virtually the only music that mattered to me this year, with maybe a slight exception for Miriam Makeba and some electronic music given to me by friends. Admittedly my love for this record comes partly from the emotional connection I have with it, but even musically, it’s something I have come to know so well that I don’t think I’ve gone a day without listening to at least one Sharon song since a friend gave it to me ten months ago. Addicted may be too strong a word, though I haven’t been this into to an album in a long, long time. It has officially entered the ranks of The Reminder, Lungs, and Rabbit Fur Coat, all albums by other female artists, all albums that came out three or more years ago.

From cmj.com

Sharon Van Etten’s music was given to me when I was in a dramatic relationship that eventually disintegrated. I resisted Tramp at first; I listened to “Warsaw” and heard what sounded like Alanis Morrissette. I thought about throwing the CD in the trash. I was not going to be an angry woman who listened to angry woman music. But then a couple months later, I was under what can be described as nothing less than true emotional duress, and I credit Tramp for getting me through that. I’m mostly a happy camper now, but I remain attached to this album. Luckily it’s mostly because of the music at this point. That was true before I saw (and met!) SVE at the 9:30 Club in October, but it became even truer after.

It’s the details that make this album such a gem. It’s the perfect harmonies in every song. It’s the lines like “You’re the reason why I’ll move to the city/you’re why I’ll need to leave,” from “Give Out,” and the reassuringly simple lyrics of “We Are Fine” sung with Beirut’s Zach Condon. It’s the moment at 3:40 in “All I Can” when the song absolutely blooms. It’s the percussive, purposeful way Sharon sings “I am search-ing for your crimes,” in “Serpents” around 1:46. It’s both the hopelessness of “I’m Wrong” and the way it somehow doesn’t sound entirely unhappy. I could much more easily make a list of my top ten favorite moments on Tramp than I could make a list of my top ten favorite albums this year. There really are no other contenders.

If there’s one thing I’ve been reminded of after being a complete and utter failure at keeping up with the music of 2012, it is this – music is a deeply personal experience. You don’t need to keep up with all the blogs or charts or even your friends’ musical tastes if you’re just not into them. Give it a shot if that’s your thing, but if not, don’t let people give you crap for it. I’ve been told by a music journalist or two that my musical tastes are not diverse enough, which left me heartbroken at first, but today I’m quite all right with that.

If this post makes you want to go fall in love with Sharon Van Etten, please, give me a call, and I will be your guru – I’m sure we will have lots to talk about. But if it sounds massively unappealing, that’s cool too. Go find your soulmate of an album, and I only hope you fall for it as hard as I’ve fallen for this one.

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Sharon Van Etten – 10/25/12 @ 9:30 Club

Even amidst Halloweekend, Hurricane Sandy nerves, and feeling starstruck after seeing Malia Obama in Georgetown last night, I cannot stop thinking about Sharon Van Etten’s performance at the 9:30 Club last Thursday.

For those of you who don’t know SVE, she’s a singer-songwriter, originally from New Jersey, who has released three albums, Because I Was in Love (2009), Epic (2010), and Tramp (2012). The first two of those are pretty clearly about a love gone wrong; she had a terribly abusive boyfriend for a while, and she reacted to the dissolution of their relationship by writing songs. At some point, she also cut her hair short, and frankly, she looked like an angry man herself. I don’t want to speculate too much about SVE’s personal life, but I wouldn’t be surprised if she had been extremely clinically depressed for at at least some stretch of time during that ordeal. At some point, she was noticed by other musicians, receiving promotional and production help from her friends in The National, later collaborating with a number of other well-established musicians on Tramp and playing alongside them at festivals.

Sharon Van Etten at the 9:30 Club (Photo: Allie Prescott)

On Thursday night, Sharon Van Etten appeared not as some broken woman, but as a strong, confident, and humble musician who could easily blow you away whether playing alone or with the other three members of her band. She had no fancy set or light show, nothing theatrical – even with only her music to offer, nothing was left to be desired. What’s amazing about SVE’s music is that it doesn’t need the light show or the fancy clothes or the staged interactions between band members. All that it needs are listeners who are willing to experience it for what it is – pure, honest, heartfelt poetry, set to music that matches it mysteriously perfectly.

From the moment Sharon and her band walked on stage and launched into “All I Can,” we in the crowd stood in awe – respectful, but clearly filled with anticipation as the song built. One of my favorite moments was when Sharon sung, “The memory of you/ the love overdue/ to carry a face/ I cannot re-trace.” In her delivery of those words was an energy that was never abandoned throughout the show.

After playing the third track in the set, “Save Yourself,” Sharon finally engaged in some charming conversation with the audience, humble enough to admit that she’d accidentally sung the words “shave yourself” during one of the choruses in the song. She told the audience, “If anyone here works for Gillette, I just want you to know that I use your products…occasionally. So we should talk or something.” It was this kind of self-deprecating humor and banter throughout the night that made Sharon so damn human. I don’t know if it’s just the fact that as a 20-year-old not-a-girl-not-yet-a-woman, I look up to Sharon for her ability to put in song what many of us just keep quiet, but to see that she is just a normal person convinced me to stop poking fun at the fact that I like this “angry woman” music so much.

Playing through tracks from her latter two albums, Sharon showed off the best of her repertoire, everything from “Peace Signs” to “Serpents” to a strikingly rich rendition of “I’m Wrong” whose textures captured the musicians to the point that they all ended up on the floor in a frenzy of sound. For me, the highlight of the show came in the middle with Sharon’s solo debut of a new song. I couldn’t find a video from the 9:30 Club, but I found a low-quality version from a Paris show earlier in the month. Yes, it is about a complex heartbreak, but…well, just listen to the song. It’s magical.

Look, I can’t do this show justice through words. I’d hoped that NPR Music would have recorded it so I could share the music, but I saw Bob Boilen from All Songs Considered walking around and not  near any recording equipment, so I doubt we’ll get that live recording. All I know is that I left on a high that was, yes, partially from meeting SVE after the show, but mostly from the music and passion and perfection.

Me looking totally starstruck next to SVE.


See that lady in the stripes? She’s my new musical idol.

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