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Uncommon harmonies

With her fourth album, Sharon Van Etten stays confessional but adds texture

Hazel Sheffield | May/June 2014

Confessional songwriters are seldom in short supply, but Sharon Van Etten rings out louder than most. She began by writing about a boyfriend in Tennessee who not only told her she was no good but held her prisoner, turning the experience into songs that were burnished in the light of the outside world. It was a world that only opened up to her when she made an escape to Brooklyn in 2005 and started to commit her Tennessee love songs to tape. After two albums, her talent attracted famous fans in Bon Iver, who covered the glorious “Love More”, and Aaron Dessner of The National, who gave her studio space to make her third album “Tramp”.

Her fourth, “Are We There”, is still confessional, but shows a new focus on texture. The surfaces of its songs shift from the swollen romance of strings in “Afraid of Nothing” to silvery minimalism in “Our Love” and dark atmospherics in “You Know Me Well”. Each shift is shaped by Van Etten’s voice, a rich soprano backed by uncommon harmonies (she says she hears two melodies), which can turn from a whisper to a howl in the space of a verse. ~ Hazel Sheffield

Are We There Jagjaguwar, May 26th. On tour America, May 8th-11th, June 6th to July 20th; Europe, May 25th to June 5th, Aug 5th-17th

 

ROCK AT A GLANCE

Roddy Frame (album, out now). With Aztec Camera, he wrote some of the most lovable hits of the Eighties; on his own, he’s less celebrated but just as good.

Arcade Fire (Europe, May 29th to June 29th). Their sudden taste for fancy dress isn’t quite convincing, but they still have some immense tunes.

Eagles (European tour, May 22nd to July 2nd). Hell freezes over, again: a band who couldn’t stand the sight of each other 20 years ago start yet another tour. The songs have lost none of their lustre, or their individuality.

Ivan & Alyosha (album, May 26th). The name is from “The Brothers Karamazov”, the band are from Seattle, and the music is beguiling folk-pop. ~ Tim de Lisle

 

intelligent life: six good songs to slip into your pocket

Metronomy: The Upsetter Sparkling electro-pop, with a lyric that's a love letter to 1992.

Beck: Heart Is a Drum The album "Morning Phase" is a bit one-paced, but this mellow piano chugger is a gem.

Hurray for the Riff Raff: Good Time Blues Meet Alynda Lee Segarra, the Latina Emmylou Harris.

Simone Felice: Running Through My Head As ballads go, this is an epic.

Robert Ellis: Chemical Plant Country music without the rhinestones.

Todd Terje feat. Bryan Ferry: Johnny and Mary Robert Palmer with a sinuous twist.

All songs at iTunes and Spotify (enter IntLifeMag)

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