Review – Sharon Van Etten – “epic”

Sharon Van Etten - epic

Rating: 82%

“I did one flub, but I don’t remember where.”

So speaks Sharon Van Etten at the end of “One Day,” the second to last song on her sophomore LP, “epic”. This quote captures the essence of Sharon’s music perfectly, because I heard no such flub, and I’m betting neither did the producer who recorded that track. The thing is, Van Etten is not so much self-depreciating as she is self-critical. Her music may not possess the obsessive perfectionism of, say, a Grizzly Bear or The National album, but she is her own worst/best critic, and we feel the restraint even though it does nothing to harm her songwriting.

After experiencing, and reviewing her first album, I wondered what an unrestrained, heart-healed Van Etten might sound like. On her second effort, I see flashes of that future, but you can rescue a person from heartache, but you can’t take the heartache out of a person. I paraphrase, but that’s the long and short of it, here. How’s about I try to actually speak about the album itself, and not my own metaphysical whatever-you-call-them…

Like sleeping-in beneath an electric blanket on a chilly afternoon, Sharon Van Etten once again blesses us with seven stripped down tracks of varying shades of blue. In fairness, we are given two more spirited tracks up front before Van Etten retreats back under the sheets.

Sharon Van Etten - "epic"

This is comfort food for the soul, what some may call beautifully hopeless music making, though never random. And in Van Etten’s own words: “I’ll be fine with that.” Most of the runtime on “epic”, is spent ruminating on past heartbreak and laying plans for future prosperity. If we follow this chronology, we should look forward to her third album involving a new love, new hope, with occasional flashbacks to sadder times.

As of right now, I’m just happy to be under the covers of more Van Etten music. I may be blissfully married with two beautiful baby girls, but that doesn’t stop me from escaping to the land of melancholic melody whenever I get the chance. If the music is soothing, unpretentious, and well-written, why should it make me sad?

Vocally, I sensed an undercurrent of Ricky Lee Jones, but can’t pinpoint exactly why. Perhaps it’s the emotion of her delivery, the embrace of her quirky but voluminous voice. When “Don’t Do It,” began to play, I felt for a moment my iTunes had skipped to an old Songs:Ohia track, but then her whispering croon came in and I had to smile. It turned out to be my favorite track on the entire album, not surprisingly. The crescendo of this song and its bridges (and repeat climaxes) are true things of beauty. It is a pitch perfect journey through a more fully arranged Sharon Van Etten creation, and all I can say is: “We want more!”

Sharon Van Etten - "epic"

Sharon has brought her vocal prowess more to the foreground by creating a selection of songs that push her range a little further. I am beginning to think she is an even better vocalist than she demonstrates, here, however. That is not to say she sings poorly, but that there are moments on “epic” where you wonder how far she can soar if she unlatched the restraints of heartache and let go. I am no therapist, but this did feel like a “healing” album in a way.

My second favorite track on the album has to be the lead song, “Crimes”. She is setting the compass for where she’s at in life. The song is about investing in a relationship that didn’t pay off, and how it would be a crime to ever be in love like that again. This album seems to depict that sentiment.

Mp3. “Don’t Do It”
Mp3. “A Crime”

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