One of those nice, tidy little clear-up releases from Sharon Van Etten here on Jagjaguwar. I Don’t Want To Let You Down follows up her Are We There album from last year with five tracks not on that album, forming a rather good little EP, with all the Van Etten hallmarks pleasingly pleasant. 12” or CD.
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Last year ‘Are We There’ became the irrefutable high point of Sharon Van Etten’s discography, a record benefiting from self-assured production, high-quality studio detail and the best songs of a cunning career. Its chilled and ornate indie rock arrangements were juxtaposed with lyrics about scarring experiences in love, delivered like a smoothed out knife to the heart. Etten’s penchant for grandeur came through in “Your Love Is Killing Me”, a bloodletting of Jeff Buckley proportions, but so too did her wicked sense of humour in “Everytime the Sun Comes Up” (choice lyric: “I wash your dishes but I shit in your bathroom”). This supplementary EP posits the same divide in her music: sadness, but slickly, and with plenty of snark.
‘I Don’t Want To Let You Down’ opens with its fine title track, a favourite of Etten’s in recent live shows, flitting between many of her recent record’s backdrop tunes; it has the same shimmering guitar tone as “Tarifa” and a chorus as simplistically grabbing as “Taking Chances”. On this EP, it serves well as an overture, the organ keyboards signalling an introduction to a brand new microcosm of woe. The vocal harmonies at the centre of the song are compelling but not overperformed, lending the song its lushness without climax. “Just Like Blood” follows, a piano ballad steeped in Etten’s slight dramatics: her voice finds a grander register for its chorus, but dovetails back to its usual low hum for verses, suggesting Etten’s more relaxed than anything at this moment.
For those who appreciate Etten at her sparsest, “I Always Fall Apart” is a largely solo piano tune with melodies that echo “I Love You But I’m Lost”, but with a bit of supplementary violin; for those who like it best when Etten isn’t singing about Game of Thrones, “Pay My Debts” is not a reference to Game of Thrones -- it’s actually a creeping and hypnotic slice of pop carried on the back of an eruptive bassline. When all’s said and done, though, it’s the live rendition of “Tell Me” that many will be drawn to -- it’s Sharon Van Etten twisting a laid back evening of strumming into a furious torch song, and nobody bridges that gap better than her.
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