Band of the Day

2012.02.19

Sharon Van Etten

A singer-songwriter renders heartbreak with raggedly gorgeous vocals and skillfully crafted songs
Serpents in my mind, I am searching for your cries Everything changes, in time you stay, frozen in time.
lyrics from Serpents

Sharon Van Etten is a solo folk rock artist based in Brooklyn, New York. She is known for intense, affecting lyrics, beautifully rough vocal delivery and skill as a songwriter. Van Etten grew up in New Jersey then moved to Mufreesboro, Tennessee to attend college. She dropped out shortly after but stuck around Mufreesboro where she was in a destructive relationship that eventually inspired her to make music. After moving back to New Jersey and then to Brooklyn, Van Etten began making an impact with her confessional songwriting, releasing her debut Because I Was in Love in 2009. Van Etten released her sophomore album Epic in 2010 and will release her third album Tramp in 2012, which features contributions from members of The National as well Zach Condon of Beirut.

Sharon Van Etten is the reason people go to open mics. She's that one in a thousand chance that the lone guitarist stepping up to the microphone won't just not suck, but will blow your mind with a heartbreakingly raw, emotional powerhouse of a song. If you went to the right open mic in Mufreesboro, Tennessee in the mid 2000s, you would have had one of those “Oh my God who is this person?!?” moments. After beginning a degree at the University of Tennessee in Mufreesboro, Van Etten became embroiled in a destructive relationship, which inspired her to write her debut album Because I Was In Love. After years of writing secretly, she went public with her intense compositions, which recall introspective singer-songwriters like Elliott Smith, Joni Mitchell and Vashti Bunyan. Van Etten upped the ante with her 2010 follow up “Epic,” with its insistent country-rock electricity, it's the sound of an artist fully emerging. Her voice is still haunting and gloomy, but its gathered power, backed by insistent electric guitars that crackle with dark magic. “One Day” is built on calmly shuffling guitar chords and Van Etten's languid vocals poured over them like smoky molasses. She sounds resigned to accept melancholy, singing “One day I'll be fine with that/You don't leave me now/Do you love me back?” with a beautiful country lilt to her voice.

“Serpents” is the tantalizing first single from Van Etten's recently released album, Tramp. It's another step forward for Van Etten, moving closer to rock and roll with its forceful drums and rousing chorus. Recorded by the National's Aaron Desner and getting help from Jenn Wasner of Wye Oak as well as Matt Barrick of The Walkmen, the song has those bands' sweeping dramatic feel. Multiple tracks of Van Etten's anguished vocals pile on each other harmoniously as ghostly slide guitar haunts it beautifully. The song has a 90s vibe to it, but combined with the lush, complex sensibilities of the best 2000s indie rock. Over her short career, Van Etten has proven herself to be a tremendous talent, making heartbreak as intensely powerful as ever in her skillfully crafted combination of rock, folk and country.