Sharon Van Etten – Tramp (2012)
Now filed under “How the hell did I miss this?” in my music stack for 2012, Van Etten’s fourth album is intimate, confident, unguarded, and, ultimately, beautiful. Produced by The National’s Aaron Dessner, there is a slight frailty to the record despite Van Etten’s assured delivery. The scars of her own past are still visible and threaten to come undone at any moment on songs like ‘Serpents’, which grows darker with every line. The centerpiece of this magnificent collection is ‘All I Can’, which grows from an organ hum with acoustic strums to a huge release of sound. It’s an emotional exorcism for an artist willing to use her music as therapy in plain sight of all who choose to listen in. The glowing reviews of her performance at this weekend’s Lollapalooza will only draw more listeners to her music. Tramp is the place to start. – Jason Lent
The Olivia Tremor Control – Music From The Unrealized Script, Dusk At Cubist Castle (1996)
We aren’t fleeing. This is not escapism through the fabled portal of psychedelia. Our very real and thus all the more rousing good fortune simply requires vaster tracts in which to blossom — tracts perceived in a three-dimensional mind’s eye rather than the tired gaze we typically employ. There’s such vim and eagerness within these 20-something pop collages, warbles and whirs and watershed indie cuts that twist and shout of the serendipity we’ve been blessed with. Whether passers-by halt their daily trudge for a listen won’t matter in the end. These slices of spastic, splendiferous gaiety will not be denied — they don’t stick around long enough anyway, leaping from the buoyant to the esoteric and back so nimbly it’s as though would-be tethers are in on the act as well, urging ‘Tropical Bells’ and ‘Green Typewriters’ to skip rope as opposed to snuffing out their high spirits.
For decades, the rub was retracing our steps. Making peace with the past to soldier on. Understanding. Charting. Mapping. But maybe that’s not quite right. Hell, maybe that’s a load of shit. Excavating frames just extinguishes flames, and that fire in our gut must not — at any cost — die out, for it comprises the vital force that compels us forward into the fog when reason vehemently tugs at our coattails, warning us of the unknown’s perils.
Getting our bearings softens blows that, for better or worse, are meant to knock us sideways. “There is no growing in knowing where you’re going.”
Dusk at Cubist Castle doesn’t, and its off-the-cuff spontaneity accounts for the lion’s share of its charm. A looming change of scenery at every turn produces a truly fascinating affair, easy breezy yet empathetic, like full-grown chaps milling about in a playground because they know it may be their last hurrah, seesawing between blurs and beams for 70 minutes. Time fritters into oblivion — 60s-indebted harmonies bleed into 90s-inflected rock ‘n’ roll sensibilities. Peace and love filter into the provinces of lo-fi. Or is it the other way around?
Even at their most recondite, lips tightly wound, cards held close to the vest, the faucet governing these songs…leaks. These splashes of color cannot contain themselves. Each droplet presents a different herald: the smell of leaves, the sight of spring, the sign of warmer days to come. While none of these are new, they will be again soon. They’ll register as true because they haven’t been tampered with by the prism/prison of remembrance. Our golden days, however slippery, lie ahead.
Maybe we shouldn’t hope to make peace. Only find some. – Vinh Cao