Arts & Events

Sharon Van Etten’s album Tramp proves to be excellent musical therapy for listeners

When the A.V. Club asked Sharon Van Etten to describe her reasoning for writing so many depressing songs, she replied, “I guess I usually write when I’m in a really intense headspace, because it’s my form of self-therapy.”

Van Etten’s third album Tramp is so lyrically poignant that it is easy to believe that every song she sings is a snapshot into her tumultuous personal life.

Be warned that every track on this album will instantly revive memories of bad breakups and accidental ex-sex, but listening to Tramp in its entirety is like having a good cry.

Van Etten is a master of language and her observations will definitely make you shiver; however, it is also a comfort to hear complex emotions put into words.

Not only does Van Etten find her music to be a form of self-therapy, but listeners will discover a quiet comfort in this record as well.

The opening track, “Warsaw,” brings to mind Liz Phair’s powerful album Exile in Guyville, as do many of the other songs on this album.

The scene is familiar, but Van Etten has a bite that makes this song her own. Her frank lyrics sound even more raw when paired with gentle musical arrangements.

The production of this album is excellent and it is clear that the instrumentals are not meant to ever overshadow the poetry on this album.

“Give Out” is one of the standout tracks on Tramp. The repeating phrase, “you’re the reason why I’ll move to the city, you’re why I’ll need to leave,” speaks volumes and tells a story without giving too much detail away. Van Etten captures that perfect balance between being personal and vague; therefore leaving room for listeners to insert their own experiences into the song.

This aspect of her music allows room for interpretation, a detail that will certainly help her widen her fan base.

“Leonard” and “Kevin’s” will appeal to St. Vincent and Regina Spektor fans. As she sweetly croons, “Well, well I am bad, well, well, hell, I am bad at loving,” it is almost easy to forget, for only a moment, that she is singing about very dark feelings.

The contrast between light instrumentals and dark lyrics has been developed quite nicely by Van Etten and her producer, Aaron Dessner, the guitar player from the highly esteemed band The National.

Another song that’s sure to become the anthem of college seniors everywhere is “We Are Fine.” The pleasant guitar strumming casually in the background is almost jarring to hear once it becomes clear that Van Etten is calmly describing a panic attack. However, this track proves itself to be the most uplifting and serene number on the album. Van Etten pairs with Beirut’s Zach Condon and together they sift through the ugliness of anxiety until they can both agree that “we’re all right.”

Tramp is a wonderful multilayered album that belongs in the record collection of any listener who has ever experienced heartbreak.

Van Etten sings only the cold truth and nothing but the truth, but she possesses a delicate control over each song and that makes all the difference.

Van Etten never takes advantage of the listener’s emotions by pulling the sympathy card; this record is great because it is genuine.




Sharon Van Etten will be playing in Seattle on March 25 at the Neptune Theater.