| Sound

Into the Unknown: Sharon Van Etten

As it’s the new year it seems right and proper to look forward, and how nice it is too.

What’s even nicer is to get your teeth into some blood-bubbling new music. We look forward to February in fact, and a b-side on JagJaguwar from Sharon Van Etten. American Van Etten is a favourite of the music maestro Tom Ravenscroft and it was on his show on 6Music that the song first featured. The track is called 'Mike McDermott' and is a slightly different sound from the Brooklynite as it veers from her usual singer-songwriter path and into something rather more experimental, slightly odd and, frankly, gorgeous.

The track opens with a buzz and David Sitek-style beat, a chumping snare drum and thicker-than-thick kick, just one heavy, clean and crisp loop with subtle delay that adds space. It’s closely followed by a bassline somewhat reminiscent of the Australian-come-London band HTRK and their late bass player Sean Stewart’s low level growls. The rhythm section is then furnished with the first of Van Etten’s vocal parts: an ethereal backing purr that fills the gaps, there’s a plunky grand piano caressing several joyous chords that complement the piece and add an eerie presence. You then realize the divine awaits, as the one thing missing from the piece (the part you hope is coming) arrives. When the main vocal bursts its way into the piece the other sounds are forced into the back seat as Van Etten’s voice rips in. Her timbre nods somewhat to Kim Deal, and in particular The Pixies track ‘’Where is my mind’’, although it does seem wrong to compare as the vocal is stunning, and the piece very much its own.

The song possesses no real chorus or traditional arrangement. It flows smooth and deep against the backdrop of sound and Van Etten’s howl. It proves the power of the piece when even without traditional, recognizable formatting it still holds its own, the simple looping background is all held and driven, one-handed and wild, by the vocal. She warms the ear with the tranquil words: ‘’Planning to find a redemption, you will call and pretend, when there’s nothing but dimes in our pockets’’

As the track moves, on the layers are backed by maelstrom synths that shyly chirp their way into the song and harmonise with the notes until they grow like vines through the repetitive machine of loops and layers, while detuning and upsetting until they become the focal point of the song itself.  They eventually lead out and solo into mayhem, while the track fades away into the background. An odd and unpredictable end to the track, yet somehow fitting perfectly and leaving you gasping for more.

Unbelieveably this track is a B-side to Serpents. Everyone knows how good b-sides can slip by, Radiohead’s 'Gagging Order' springs to mind, but maybe there’s a good and decent reason for it. A song might not suit the album as a whole, or the musician may feel it’s not quite finished and the structure is lacking that finishing touch. Neither of which count in this instance.

The A-side, 'Serpents', is a good track but more conventionally Van Etten, the single is from the forthcoming album Tramp (out in February).

It’s beautifully inspiring for lesser musicians in terms of musicality when you can hear such beauty and form from a relatively simple track, with such simplicity of notes and arrangement. Simple sometimes is best, it’s just all about vision and the blending of themes.

The single 'Serpents' is out now on Jagjaguwar and the album Tramp is out on February 7th.$


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