Sharon Van Etten, Epic
Making anguish sound intoxicating, with her heart more open than closed
"Never let myself love like that again," Sharon Van Etten vows over and over on the opening track of her sophomore album. The line feels like both a warning and a promise, but there's too much pathos in her voice to fool anyone — it seems she's still got a habit she should've kicked ages ago. If putting the past behind you is easier said than done, then at least the Brooklyn-based singer/songwriter has become a master at sublimating her obsessions to the best possible effect, making anguish sound intoxicating.
As on her 2009 debut, the centerpiece of Epic is Van Etten's woozy, lovesick vocals (she often sounds like fellow folk goddess Kathleen Edwards), but this time around only the opener is sonically spare and acoustic guitar-driven. Minimalism works well on "A Crime," in which Van Etten annunciates every word to make her confessional lyrics impossible to ignore: "To say the words I want to say to you would be a crime/ To admit I'm still in love with you after all this time." But from there her sound gets bigger and broader, still stark in tone but sumptuous in orchestration, from the insistent percussion that carries "Peace Signs" to the ethereal backup vocals on "DSharpG." The country-inflected breeziness of "Save Yourself" acknowledges the bits of joy that creep through devastation, as she admits, "You still make me smile, as much as I am reeling." Epic ends on a bittersweet note, as Van Etten acknowledges the silver lining to past hurts: "But they made me love it made me love it made me love more." She emerges — just as we do — from the album's beautiful turmoil with no regrets, heart more open than closed. Full of love.