January 17 — “Serpents” by Sharon Van Etten

Sharon Van Etten

If you only listen to one song today, make it “Serpents” by Sharon Van Etten. (2012, from the album Tramp)
The Brooklyn indie-folk songstress has recorded two staggering albums and a third one will officially be released in three weeks. If you pre-order a physical copy of Tramp now, you’ll get a digital download, available today.

I first became familiar with Sharon Van Etten late in 2010, when eMu made the brilliant suggestion for me to check her out. I listened to one song, and immediately bought both Because I Was in Love (2009) and Epic (2010). For a while, the only thing I could listen to or talk about was Sharon Van Etten. Then, in March of last year, she came through this way on tour. Unfortunately, my otherwise empty social calendar had a booking the night of the show. 330 nights of the year, I do nothing. On that night, Wild Flag were playing in Chapel Hill at the same time that Sharon Van Etten was playing in Raleigh. I had already bought my Wild Flag ticket, but I thought about eating that ticket. In the end, I opted for Wild Flag (whose album wouldn’t even be out for another 6 months). While I’m not sad that I saw Wild Flag, I am sad that I missed Sharon Van Etten.

I’m not messing it up this time. She’s playing on February 12, and I’m not missing it.

Her first record was pretty bare-boned. There was nothing more than guitar, layered vocals, and an occasional tambourine. Not much else. Beautifully arranged, but not many moving parts. It’s a staggering debut record that gets better with repeated listens. Not only that, but it lingers for days.

On the follow-up, she added some band members, more layers and more complexity to her songs. And the second record was even better than the first. The addition of a full band reinforced the Cat Power comparisons that were already being bandied about. Without being pigeonholed as a sound-alike, this helped her get her records played and sold.

She had also gained favor with Aaron Dessner of The National, the cats from The Antlers, and a few other high-profile folks with gobs of indie rock credential. She collaborated with these guys on their songs, and they returned the favor for the new one.

On the new record, she gets help from the likes of Dessner, the guy from The Antlers, the guy from Beirut, Julianna Barwick, and Jenn Wasner from Wye Oak. That’s pretty much an all-star lineup playing supporting roles. She also gets help by being on JagJaguwar records, who do a great job of promotion.

There are a number of great songs on the album. While it’s not really emblematic of the rest of Sharon Van Etten’s oeuvre, “Serpents” is probably my favorite on Tramp. It’s quicker, it’s louder, and it’s more “rock” than “indie folk”. I don’t think that she’s going to go in a new rock-y direction after this, but it’s nice to hear a little of that.

“Serpents” by Sharon Van Etten

It’s well documented that Sharon Van Etten got out of a relationship with a boy in Tennessee because he refused to support her ambition to make music professionally. She moved to NYC and dedicated her life to making music. I can’t help but think that this is about that experience. About that guy and other guys who were unsupportive. That guy is one of the serpents.

You enjoy sucking on dreams
So I will fall asleep
with someone other than you
I had a thought
You would take me seriously
and listen

In advance of the release of the album, Sharon Van Etten went on the Jimmy Fallon show to play this song. While I hate that show, he occasionally has a great musical guest. I didn’t watch that night, but I caught it the next day. It was a pretty great performance. I’m not sure what the audience was watching, because those people behind the stage are just sitting there like bumps on logs. Bastards.

Pre-order a physical copy of the album from Jagjaguwar using this page. The deluxe cd/lp/poster/7″ single/signed letter package looks pretty sweet. I think no matter what you order, you get the digital download coupon, which became redeemable this morning.

About dlee

North Carolina born and bred. I'm a restaurant guy who spends free time listening to music, watching hockey and playing Scrabble. I have a bachelor's degree in political science and I will most likely never put it to use. View all posts by dlee

6 responses to “January 17 — “Serpents” by Sharon Van Etten

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