Sharon Van Etten
The shimmering sound of Sharon Van Etten's Jagjaguwar debut album, Tramp, both defies and illuminates the unsteadiness of a life in flux. Throughout the 14 months of scattered recording sessions, Van Etten was without a home -- crashing with friends and storing her possessions between varied locations. The only constant in Van Etten's life during this time was spent in Aaron Dessner's garage studio.
A two year journey brought her to that point of instability. Upon the release of epic (Ba Da Bing; 2010), Sharon Van Etten surprised the music world with a touching embrace. Having established herself as a reliable performer around New York, and coming off the release of her spartan first
effort, Because I Was In Love (Language of Stone; 2009), Van Etten created a short album of diverse songs connected by a shared goal of expanded sound and her unmistakable voice. Fans quickly picked favorites, discovered their choices changing, then changing yet again. That is the magic of epic; the intricate, understated record covered so much ground within its 33 minutes, it required more than an initial half hour to absorb. Since epic's release, she has opened the
Pitchfork Music Festival, played The Hollywood Bowl with Neko Case and at Radio City Music Hall with The Antlers, sung on new records for Beirut and Ed Askew, and collaborated with Bon Iver's Justin Vernon and Megafaun on the Songs Of The South project.
Dessner, a member of The National, heard Van Etten early on, and in collaboration with Justin Vernon, performed a cover of "Love More" at the 2010 MusicNow Festival in Cincinnati. Van Etten heard about this and contacted him. Almost immediately they formed plans to work together, with Dessner offering both a location for Van Etten to record new songs, as well as the opinions of a wise producer.
Now, one year later, Van Etten unveils Tramp, an album showcasing an artist in full control of her powers. Tramp contains as much striking rock (the precise venom of "Serpents," the overwhelming power of "Ask"), as pious, minimal beauty (the earnest solemnity of "All I Can," the
breathtaking "Kevins," "Joke or a Lie"); it can be as emotionally combative ("Give Out") as it can sultry ("Magic Chords"). Contributions from Matt Barrick (Walkmen), Thomas Bartlett (Doveman), Zach Condon (Beirut), Jenn Wasner (Wye Oak), Julianna Barwick, and Dessner himself add a glowing sheen to the already substantial offering
Van Etten has traveled far, and if her displacement took an emotional toll, she offset those setbacks with a powerfully articulated vision. And so, once again, each listener will discover their own moments along the way, and the debates as to the best song start anew.
Welcome to Maraqopa, population 2. Damien Jurado's newest collaboration with producer Richard Swift drops us into a brutal and benevolent landscape. The bold strokes and new turns the pair made with 2010's Saint Bartlett are taken even further. He throws open the gate on his oft insular dirges and allows them do some real wilding out in the canyon. In Maraqopa, the vistas are miles-wide; the action is more dynamic; the close-ups sweaty and snarling. The strummed desert blues that begin "Nothing is the News" quickly bursts open into an Eddie Hazel-worthy supernova shred session, all of it swirling in tinny-psych and Echoplex'd howls. We've never heard anything like this from Jurado. Fifteen years into his remarkable career, and he continues to blossom. Jurado and Swift establish themselves not only as inventive, trusting collaborators, but as one another's spirit animals in American outsider songcraft —lone wolves in black sheep's clothing. Swift is the Ennio Morricone to Jurado's Sergio Leone.
At Swift's National Freedom studios, the live-to-tape ethos allowed these songs to expand and retract like a great beast's breath. Every in-the-moment bell and whistle here is hung with a natural, casual care. And from this, each song offers up its own unique gift: the enchanting children's choir that echoes each line of Jurado's lament for innocence lost on "Life Away from the Garden"; the breezy bossa nova that begins "This Time Next Year" and rises as effortless as a smoke cloud into high-noon showdown pop; "Reel to Reel"'s wobbly, Spector-symphony and its meta themes; the wonderful falsetto vocal work Jurado pulls from himself on "Museum of Flight." The Seattle Times recently called Jurado "Seattle's folk-boom godfather," a praising recognition to be sure. But also a title Jurado might not yet be ready to accept. That's a title for someone who has settled. With each visit to National Freedom, Jurado is exploring, taking risks. He's not only freeing his songs. The gate is opened wide to allow us all into his once-isolated musical universe. One gets the sense he's just now hitting his stride.
Indian Blanket is the collective collaborative efforts of Joe Andert, Jim Hughes and Alex Beaven. Indian Blanket has collaborated with some of the most righteous artists in music today, including First Aid Kit, BigColour, and McKenzie Toma.