Album Review: Sharon Van Etten's 'Tramp'
The title of Sharon Van Etten’s new album refers to the transient existence she led during its creation: touring; sleeping on friends’ couches; showing up for recording sessions at the Brooklyn home of the National’s Aaron Dessner, who served as her producer. But if “Tramp” follows an unstable period in this New Jersey native’s life, the record hardly exudes the jitters you’d expect; it sounds like the work of someone rooted solidly to the ground.
Much of that quiet sturdiness derives from Van Etten’s singing, which anchors the music even as Dessner fills out his gloomy arrangements with dense indie-noir details. Members of Wye Oak and the Walkmen appear on Tramp, as does Zach Condon of Beirut in a stately duet, “We Are Fine.”
But it’s also the result of Van Etten’s devotion to her subject matter, a commitment to self-examination she crystallizes in “Leonard” with nearly comic precision, admitting, “I am bad at loving you,” over a luscious waltz-time groove. (You know the lyric isn’t actually comic because, as she tells us later in “Ask,” “It hurts too much to laugh about it.”)
Van Etten never strays from that emotional terra firma, and though its handsome desolation can threaten to become dreary, she makes her own psychological space feel as fact-like as any permanent address.
Sharon Van Etten
Three stars (out of four)