wears the trousers magazine

sharon van etten: because i was in love (2009)
April 15, 2009, 8:35 pm
Filed under: album, mp3, review, video | Tags: , , , ,


Sharon Van Etten
Because I Was In Love ••••
Language Of Stone

Sharon Van Etten is a true magician. Armed with a hazy voice that bleeds, she transforms the listener into a bundle of dark and wondrous appreciation. The Brooklyn-based singer’s first official album Because I Was In Love is, as you might guess from the title, an autobiographical exploration of the soul, of love, and of all the other peculiarities of human interaction. Released on the practically infallible Language Of Stone imprint helmed by Espers’ Greg Weeks (and co-produced by the good man himself), Because I Was In Love admittedly runs the risk of seeing Van Etten being typecast into the ever so fashionable weird-Americana niche, but there is a lot more to this feisty starlet. As simple as her songs of heartache and resignation may be, the underlying emotional complexities are wonderfully overpowering. 

Opening with ‘I Wish I Knew’, Van Etten slowly strums her guitar, quietly setting the scene and ushering in her soft, drawn-out vocals. Her voice seems free-spirited, but in a strangely calculated way, and her lyrics surprisingly frank and straightforward. “I don’t know shit and neither do you,” she sings in her mournful, feathery head-voice, and you believe her. Picking up the pace a touch, ‘Consolation Prize’ introduces some very light percussion as delicately struck wooden blocks and tambourine are drafted in to accompany her mesmerisingly soft finger-picking. The vocals here are layered, and even though they have a noncommittal feel the song is really quite structured. Both here and on the dreamy ‘For You’, Van Etten shows a nebulous acceptance of life’s path, an atmospheric “that’s just how it is” mindset that seems mature beyond her age.

Van Etten refers to her own music as “sad prairie folk music” and she certainly captures a sense of longing in her writing, picturing intimate secrets that are almost too personal to share with the listener. Mourning waltz ‘Have You Seen’ falls into this category. Her arrangements and chord progressions are so simple they could be mistaken for complacency, but it is their very simplicity that makes these songs so damn affecting. They simply don’t need an army of instruments and sound effects; the subject matter will do entirely. That is not to say Van Etten does not experiment with different sounds. ‘Tornado’, for example, introduces an electric guitar that lazily hangs over cloudy, multi-layered vocals that are low and lost. They merely hint at resentment, almost evaporating into nonchalance.

The most beautiful of the lot, though, has to be ‘Keep’ with its simple guitar rhythm gently embellished with a bassy piano line and organ-like high-end chords. “Breathe slowly so I can breathe with you,” she soothes in such a cherished way you feel that you are right there in the moment with her – this is perfect diary-writing music. “Don’t cry for me,” she urges, but quite honestly it is pretty hard not to. Because I Was In Love is a secret, beautiful treasure that belongs in your drawer of significant personal collectables. It enlightens and soothes the soul – to know that sadness can also be liberating and produce something as stunning as this.

Anja McCloskey
UK release date: 25/05/09; www.myspace.com/sharonvanetten


FREE MP3: Sharon Van Etten, ‘For You’
FREE MP3: Sharon Van Etten, ‘I Wish I Knew’ [via RCRDLBL]


‘It’s Not Like’ [live]


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She has such a beautiful voice.

Comment by Dee

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