Like most pop singers, Sharon Van Etten seems to love repetition — a technique used aggressively in ad jingles and Top 40 hits, but also in more hypnotic and emotionally complicated ways. Van Etten's new record, Tramp, is full of repeated riffs, drones and phonemes, and they're more intense and emotionally packed than ever. Songs like "Serpents" display her expansive voice and coiled songwriting, and are earning Van Etten a good deal of attention.
Van Etten's first record, Because I Was In Love, was an album-length swoon of sad folk songs with just a whiff of rock 'n' roll musk. Tramp stinks of it more, in the most potent way — even when it's hushed, which is quite often. The record still centers and soars on that remarkable voice, which begins with the haunting timbre and phrasing of Karen Dalton and Joni Mitchell, and ends with the bruised muscularity of Van Etten's New Jersey rock forbears, Patti Smith and Debbie Harry.
Van Etten titled her record Tramp because, as a low-budget touring musician, she was essentially homeless, living on the road — though clearly she's playing with the word's other connotations, too. She now lives in Brooklyn, where she made the album with an all-star gang of kindred young rock musicians, so it seems she has found a home after all. But the album's dark beauty resides in its unresolved restlessness, its infinite-loop longing — which may be why, every time it ends, I want to play it again.
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