Review – Sharon Van Etten – “Because I Was In Love”

Sharon Van Etten "Because I Was In Love"

Rating: 75%

When Sharon Van Etten sings “I do,” on the second track, “For You,” from her debut LP, “Because I Was In Love,” we do not imagine altars or fresh flowers, no bridesmaids or groomsmen, no priests or witnesses. Rather, the words slip from somber lips to fill her empty bedroom. Pictures of her beloved lay spread across her sheets, spilling from an up-ended shoebox, tattered from the months spent inside her closet. A pressed rose falls from the diary she’s reading, blood red and bone dry. Mascara runs down her cheeks and the ashtray is full. Empty wine glasses line her side table to the point of falling off.

Whoever he is, he is gone, that much is clear, and we spend eleven tracks tragically learning this fact, listening to her confessions and questions over minimally forlorn arrangements. And we are somehow transfixed, because in one way or another, we have all been there. We have lost someone, whether it be a lover, a friend, a family member. We know the tragedy she issues forth song after song.

But enough hyperbole and metaphor; onto the album.

Sharon Van Etten "Because I Was In Love"

Recorded in a small studio by Greg Weeks (of the band Espers), “Because I was In Love,” is a melancholy selection of songs, comprised mostly of lazily plucked acoustic guitar with the occasional tambourine, organ, or bass as an accompaniment (never all at once, mind you), the music never truly soars.

I think what kept me hooked on this album after a few listens was her transfixing vocal delivery. I am a sucker for haunting and non-girly female singers (see Marissa Nadler, Alela Diane, Neko Case, Meg Baird), and Van Etten reaches deep inside our rib cage to tug on our heart strings in the most delicate of ways. Using words like melancholy, bittersweet, somber or forlorn to describe her, you may suspect this to be an optimist’s worst nightmare; and you would be partially right. But her melodies and sincerely emotional delivery are just so beautifully heartbreaking to hastily write off in such a fashion.

If you have the patience, Sharon Van Etten will let you glimpse inside her breaking heart, and you will feel an oneness to listen. “I’m a tornado. You are the dust you’re all around,” she sings about halfway into the album; a piece of insight that maybe it wasn’t all her lover’s fault after all.

But her blessing is her curse, as there is no sense of healing or evolution here, just an even set of songs all aimed at the same lonely mantra: “I messed up, I’m lost, and I don’t know how to fix it.” A few rays of sun, even if taunting, may go a long way to round out Van Etten’s repertoire on her sophomore offering. Time will tell.

Mp3. “For You”
Mp3. “Tornado”
Mp3. “I Wish I Knew”

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