Album Review: Sharon Van Etten – epic 10

epic 10 is Sharon Van Etten’s gorgeous celebration and revival of her 2010 album epic. For this double-LP, the original album is paired with an album worth of covers by several of Van Etten’s musical inspirations and friends. The collaborators include stars like Fiona Apple, Big Red Machine (Justin Vernon and Aaron Dessner’s duo), and Lucinda Williams, as well as music-scene newcomers like the LA-producer and songwriter St. Panther. The artists’ tracks all retain Van Etten’s music’s grit and drive, with new sonic interpretations that reveal the relevance of the original album. 

Big Red Machine takes expansive, smashing percussion to their cover of “A Crime,” amplifying the sonic cathartic release behind a song about restraint and holding oneself back – “Alone in this basement where I will write these songs / Of things I’ll never say to you again and you know why”. Aaron Dessner, one-half of Big Red Machine and longtime Van Etten collaborator (and producer of her album Tramp), said that he and Vernon “felt like the door should be about to fall off the hinges of this version,” a sentiment they achieved and which peaks as careening electric guitar solos crescendo at the song’s close.

British punk rock band Idles provides one of the more divergent takes on Van Etten’s songs, screaming “Peace Signs” with a punk backing chorus over distorted guitars. Next in the album, the country-style ballad “Save Yourself” is redone by country legend Lucinda Williams. Her dark and self-possessed alto tone matches the unapologetic tenor of the song as her voice saunters over the lines “Don’t you think I know/ You’re only trying to save yourself?”

Shamir is a countertenor whose two 2020 albums (Cataclysm and Shamir) earned his spot as one of Van Etten’s favorite artists of the last year. His cover of “DsharpG” replaces the droning harmonium of the original with driving guitars. However, the ethereal energy the harmonium brought to Van Etten’s “DsharpG” is maintained in Shamir’s cover through his soaring and layered vocals, which provide an angelic contrast to the heavy guitar backdrop.

Australian singer-songwriter Courtney Barnett teamed up with Brooklyn-based artist Vagabon to take on “Don’t Do It”. Van Etten says the cover “helped breathe more hope in a song that when I wrote it was from more of a desperate mindset”.

St. Panther delivers the album’s most genre-divergent cover of the album with “One Day”. Pop synths and drum-machine beats provide the lo-fi backdrop to St. Panthers’ crooning, earnest voice which recalls Clairo. St. Panther makes several bold melodic changes, and they pay off; the result is an effortlessly catchy and modernized tune. 

The album closes with an experimental misfit’s take on one of the album’s most unique tunes. Fiona Apple adds layered percussion, similar to that found across her last album Fetch the Bolt Cutters, and looped vocals to her cover of “Love More”. Apple’s rough and truth-telling voice conveys all the pain behind the lines “Chained to the wall of our room / Yeah you chained me like a dog in our room / I thought that’s how it was / I thought that we were fine / Then the day was night.”

2010’s epic is a defiant masterpiece, full of lyric-driven melodies and piercing one-liners. epic 10 is a creative and stunning testament to the changing lives of songs, the joy of collaboration, and Van Etten’s relevance as an extraordinary songwriter. 

Nell Sather

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