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Key Tracks: “Give Out,” “Serpents,” “Leonard”
Sharon Van Etten bares her soul in her third album, Tramp. The title of the album is not something provocative as it may infer. In fact, Van Etten is referring to herself as a tramp, as she was homeless during the time she was writing the album. In those two years, Van Etten produced an intimate collection of songs that depict her emotional angst.
Since Van Etten’s debut album, Because I Was In Love in 2007, she has gained much maturity and confidence, as Tramp portrays her personal struggle. The overall sound of the album is characterized by slow acoustics underneath Van Etten’s melancholy croon. Her voice is even whispery at times, giving the album a very private feel. Tramp features a number of other indie-rock artists including Beirut’s Zach Condon and The National’s Bryce Dessner.
The album opens with a jangle of guitars in “Warsaw,” the hopeless reaction of a scorned lover. Van Etten sings, “I want to be over you / I want to show you I love you silently.” This track is the perfect way to introduce the album as an autobiographical account. The album’s second song, “Give Out,” largely contrasts with “Warsaw.” Opening with soft guitar strumming, Van Etten melodically drones about her desperate situation.
“Serpents,” the album’s single gives a clear imagery of snakes with mysterious background harmonies covered by a rough rock sound. The lyrics are direct and powerful and draw attention to the issue of domestic abuse. In the first verse she sings in a mystical voice, “But they didn’t know / Close in on my black eye / I feel safe at times / Certain emblems tell me it’s time.”
The more positive, “Leonard,” showcases Van Etten’s melodic voice in a beautiful ode to a lover. The heavy, slow march feel in “Magic Chords” differs from the fluid strumming of the other songs. It is realistic and dry with the lyrics, “You’ve got to lose sometimes.” “Joke Or A Lie” quietly ends the album with minimal instrumentals and lyrics. It is a prime way to end the overall melancholy album with Van Etten’s breathy voice singing us her final lullaby.
Tramp certainly sets a mood, but it is by no means constant. The album offers a good amount of texture and variety. It has its uplifting moments and its bleak ones, its upbeat instrumentals and barely-there acoustics. Van Etten creates a connection with her audience that lasts the entire album and is sure to leave an impression.
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