Sharon Van Etten and the point of a review

January 20, 2012 § Leave a comment

I went to see Sharon Van Etten perform most of her new album ‘Tramp’ at the Mercury Lounge last night. It’s her third, but Van Etten’s one of those artists who hasn’t ‘come out’ properly yet (though she may well with this record – in the meantime, this is a good introduction). When I got home and started writing up the show I wondered about making comparisons to other vocalists to help people understand the quality of her voice, which manages to be at once steely and light, with a similar range to Cat Power or PJ Harvey.

I was reminded of writing best of the year album reviews last month. The NME asked me to take Laura Marling and Tune-Yards. My editor added a note: “If we could steer away from comparing them to other female artists that would be great. For some reason I seem to be drowning in that stuff lately.”

The editor was talking about pop artists like Florence and Lady Gaga, but it still holds up. Lately, I’ve stopped describing the music I review almost completely. Comparisons probably made sense when you had to save up to buy records, when new music required a financial investment on the part of the listener. Now that anyone can hear anything instantly online, describing sound is futile. Every ear has a different opinion. So much the better.

Best to stick to the particulars of the night: the way Van Etten’s eyes rolled back when she reached the chorus of ‘Leonard’; the strangeness of the Omnichord and how it slipped through her grasp; her lipstick, which matched exactly the red of her spectacular Gibson ES-135.

You should hear it for yourself.

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