Review: Sharon Van Etten – Tramp

When I first started listening to Tramp, the word that popped in my head was ‘haunting’. Sure, it’s partly the wobbly voice and swirly guitar, but Sharon Van Etten’s latest work is more than that: it’s affecting.  It’s both ethereal and grounded, intimate and powerful; although Tramp feels lusher and louder than her previous releases, it’s just as beautifully honest.

 Even with its bevy of all-star contributors, Tramp never feels like it belongs to anyone but Van Etten herself. Aided by producer Aaron Dessner (of The National), she weaves in the efforts of Jenn Wasner (Wye Oak), Julianna Barwick, and others. The Walkmen’s Matt Barrick contributes to the eerie force of Warsaw, but it’s Van Etten’s almost deadened cries (“I want to be over you, I want to show you”) that give the track its emotional weight. The same can be said for We Are Fine, the even-keel track with guest vocals by Beirut’s Zach Condon. His harmonies and final verse act like conversational counterpoints: through the back and forth, they guide each other through social fears.

 Indeed, fears and hurt and dislocation take centre stage on Tramp, but the album never seems bleak. Van Etten expresses herself with confidence and authority; Leonard, for example, feels like an empowering acceptance of her own role in a relationship’s demise. Despite its subject matter, the track—with its soaring chorus and steady waltz—is almost uplifting. The raw energy of Serpents, on the other hand, displays a rage that’s just as powerful and cathartic. The album still manages to feel cohesive, even as it explores the many facets of loving, grieving, and healing.

 This album is a perfect next step for Sharon Van Etten. She’s broadened her sound without sacrificing that characteristic candor, and the result is nothing short of masterful. Tramp truly is haunting—it will stay with you for a long time to come.

Katie Carroll