"epic" (Sharon Van Etten's New Album, and Some Thoughts)
The new album from Sharon Van Etten, our favorite Brooklyn chanteuse, is out today. It's (called) epic, with a lowercase 'e'. Initially, I was a bit put off by the new full-band sound. I missed the starkness of the previous recordings, craving more minimal accompaniments that didn't distract from or compete with that voice that can silence any rowdy room. But I'm happy to say it's growing on me. The voice is still there at the center: it's a bit more confident, but just as stirringly vulnerable.
Walking back from her show at the Rock Shop a couple months ago, my friend Max and I vented our frustrations about the inevitable trajectory of solo musicians becoming more confident, bigger, louder, less vulnerable. For those of us who like our music raw and flawed, the development of too much polish and proficiency can be cause for alarm. We want sad musicians to stay sad, for timid performers to resist assuredness. We value insecurities and don't want them chipped away by encouragement and success. Cat Power, someone always brought up in reviews of SVE, is a classic example. Will Oldham could arguably serve as a more bearded case. Some of this, I'm sure, is that unfortunate possessiveness we feel for our favorite artists, the paradoxical desire for them to stay small and niche—personal to you and the initiated few. We hope broader attention won't corrupt what we discovered, plundering the personal, severing the intimate connection we have when it's just a guitar and a voice and a dimly lit room full of lucky souls. It can be tough letting our favorite singers surround their voices with more sound, filling up the once lonely spaces. It can be tough just letting them grow...
At the last YSC show, I began to play Sharon's (still unreleased) "Give Out"—probably my favorite song of hers for its brutal emotional simplicity and heartbreaking encapsulation of a relationship's fate—at the end of the set. It was a particularly rough show. I stopped playing as soon as I opened my mouth. I gave up, not out, because I knew I wouldn't make it through those lyrics in the state I was in. It says a lot that I'd have a tougher time overcoming the weight of someone else's words than my own. I sang a song about moths and flashlights instead.
"One Day" (from Said the Gramophone)
"Don't Do It" (from Jonk Music)
(You can also find the breathtaking "Love More," my favorite song from the album, HERE.)
And here is Sharon playing on the radio and talking a bit about her newfound confidence: