Sights and Sounds
by Mike Evans
SHARON VAN ETTEN — Tramp
THE GOOD: Brooklyn singer/songwriter Sharon Van Etten bares her soul yet again on her third set.
THE BAD: Tramp meanders during its final third, but the emotional punch never wavers.
THE NITTY GRITTY: Co-produced with Aaron Dessner of the National, and featuring subtle “guest” spots from members of Beirut, Wye Oak, and the Walkmen (Etten’s got a lot of friends), Tramp finds the woman further developing her own style. The record brings together elements of highly resonant modern folk, understated indie rock and even some smoky torch singing in spots; think a less playful Feist or a broken hearted Cat Power.
Mood swings shift from the frazzled forward momentum of “Serpents” to the delicate sway carrying “Leonard.” But even the abrasive moments possess a stark honest quality. You know Van Etten has lived through and genuinely felt about what she’s singing. And Dessner’s no-frills production only adds to the authenticity. We get more than one bare bones performance in a ramshackle warehouse on the wrong side of town.
BUY IT?: Yes. Tramp may not be perfect, but you can tell Van Etten is getting closer to her creative zenith.
FIRST AID KIT — The Lion’s Roar
THE GOOD: Swedish sisters Johanna and Klara Soderberg deliver a near flawless second album.
THE BAD: Nothing.
THE NITTY GRITTY: With a median age of only 20, the two came to Nebraska, drafted producer Mike Mogis (Bright Eyes, Rilo Kiley) and made a temporary masterpiece. (I say “temporary” because these ladies will surpass this album eventually.)
Falling somewhere in the middle of Fleet Foxes’ harmonies, Bright Eyes indie punch, and Alela Diane’s alt-country realism, First Aid Kit makes music that’s genuine and wise beyond their years. The airtight harmonies and raw emotions never falter, whether the girls are feeling blue (“To a Poet”) or leading a rousing free-for-all (“King of the World”). “The Old Routine” can warm up a rainy Sunday while “I Found A Way” is acoustic pop perfection. And despite the Swedish origins, there’s something distinctly American about Lion’s Roar. It conjures up pictures of a Washington forest just after a rainstorm, the Arizona desert at dusk or a snow covered farm in our own great state. Modern folk with a solid backbeat? Country with indie rock attitude? Whatever it is, Lion’s Roar is fantastic.
BUY IT?: You have to.
MARISSA NADLER — The Sister
THE GOOD: New England singer/songwriter Marissa Nadler is back with her sixth.
THE BAD: Eight songs in 33 minutes is dangerously close to EP territory. Thankfully, Sister is a definite case of quality over quantity.
THE NITTY GRITTY: Supposedly a “sister” album to last year’s self-titled effort, the new record doesn’t feel much like a companion piece. Once again, Nadler’s strong and stirring voice washes over the acoustic guitars, low piano, vintage organs and other delicate instrumentation below. Her vocals are bathed in subtle echo, recalling the most haunting bits of classic Mazzy Star.
The songs themselves are colored with loss, melancholy or emotional turmoil; Nadler’s forte. It all adds up to an experience that tugs at the heart and mind simultaneously; dramatic tunes that are always intelligent and never sappy.
Plow through the woman’s catalog, and The Sister might feel a little stagnant (perhaps this is a sequel after all). But if “temporary complacency” is this woman’s worst offense, we have nothing about which to gripe. There’s still no denying the power of an eerie track like foggy opener “The Wrecking Ball Company” and everything else that follows.
BUY IT?: Yep.
NEW RELEASES — CD
BLOOD ON THE DANCE FLOOR — Evolution
JUSTIN BIEBER — Believe
KENNY CHESNEY — Welcome to the Fishbowl
SMASHING PUMPKINS — Oceania
NEW RELEASES — DVD
BIG MIRACLE with Drew Barrymore and John Krasinski
JEFF WHO LIVES AT HOME
with Jason Segel and Ed Helms
SEEKING JUSTICE with Nicholas Cage and Guy Pearce
WANDERLUST with Paul Rudd and Jennifer Aniston