This is not a song.
It has been a relatively slow start for me when it comes to music; we’re only three months in, but I know I can do better than this. I blame work, expectations, and oh, life in general. It feels like I am re-living my tired and angry days; sooner or later, I am going to become a rebel without a cause and start ranting about everything and anything under the sun.
Sharon Van Etten
7 February 2012
Female background vocals do not usually feature in indie rock band The National’s music catalogue. So when their musical contribution to the 2011 movie Win Win, in the form of “Think You Can Wait” (which also made the longlist in this year’s Academy Awards for Best Original Song) was first unveiled, I was naturally drawn to the female voice breathily declaring “All I have / is all” that came on in the chorus. It did two things: lent a particularly tender resolution to an otherwise typically brooding composition of The National’s; and made me pay more attention to Sharon Van Etten.
Now, Van Etten is, by no means, your regular novice; she has churned out two albums previously in the past to relatively modest success, but it looks like she has finally hit the headlines with the more confessional Tramp. Hot favourites from the album include first single “Serpents”, a tense and angry number that is subtly tinged with remorse and regret as she “hopes that he changes / this time”; the ukulele-driven “Leonard” that complements nicely with her delicate vocals; and “All I Can”, which has a crescendo nicely built up to finish off the song triumphantly.
Produced by The National’s Aaron Dessner, the album was recorded over a course of 14 months; inevitably, there was a revolving door of guest artistes who regularly dropped by Dessner’s studio garage while the recording process for Van Etten’s album was underway, from Jenn Wasner (of Wye Oak) to Beirut’s Zach Condon doing additional vocal duties in “We Are Fine”. Judging from the critics’ positive response to Tramp, however, it seems that Van Etten has finally earned herself a worthy spot among her famous colleagues.
A Sleep & A Forgetting
14 February 2012
Canadian pop-rock band Islands may have seen various changes to its lineup since its formation in 2005, but there is an undeniable consistency present throughout all its albums that we now know could only be attributed to frontman Nicholas Thorburn, the only member and apparently driving force of the group who has stuck with the band throughout the years.
Islands’ A Sleep & A Forgetting is being unabashedly marketed as an album created out of breakups and failed relationships, and this is clearly heard in first single “This is Not a Song”, which is bound to tug at your heartstrings (“Why / do I find / it so hard to move on?”), and later on again in tracks such as “Don’t I Love You” and “Same Thing”, which both help end the album on a more poignant note. But really, that may be the only extent of Thorburn’s supposed sorrow, for the other tracks seem to have decidedly more upbeat tunes – there are the playful piano staccatos in “Never Go Solo”; the quirky tempo to “Hallways”; and the soaring ooh-oohs in “Can’t Feel My Face”, to wipe out any notion of this ever being a heartbreak album.
Surprisingly, the album flows by quickly, clocking in at just under forty minutes. Maybe these are glorious sounds made by a man on the mend and on the rebound. In this respect, Islands did not fail, and perhaps a good night’s sleep is all Thorburn truly needs to forget the sorrows of his love life.
Upcoming releases for 2012:
Beach House. Best Coast. Eve 6 (now that is a name I have not seen in a long while). Keane. John Mayer. See Metacritic’s release calendar here.