Release Date: Jun 9, 2015
Record label: Jagjaguwar
Genre(s): Pop/Rock, Alternative/Indie Rock, Alternative Pop/Rock
The title track of Sharon Van Etten’s new EP is so effortlessly hummable, and so clear-eyed in its vulnerability, that it reminds of Aimee Mann’s contributions to the 1999 film Magnolia. Those songs captured our need for human connection with unguarded poignancy, not hesitating to explore the anxieties and fears that often go hand in hand. (Nobody was better suited to cover Harry Nilsson’s “One,” ever.) Her influence on director Paul Thomas Anderson’s labyrinthine story of human free-falls and renaissances cannot be overstated.
It’s a loud, frivolous world. We have to ensure that everyone knows how we’re feeling, what we’re thinking, what we believe in. And if no one’s listening or hearing you, why, BE LOUDER of course. I’ve not been gobsmacked by an album like I was with Sharon Van Etten’s Are We There for easily a decade.
Like an unreleased side C of the musically mature, thematically searching Are We There, Sharon Van Etten enacts the same tone with repeat co-producer Stewart Lerman, and is lyrically still struggling, coping, and navigating trying relationships on I Don't Want to Let You Down. Some of those relationship problems were caused, she has admitted, by being absent in the pursuit of her music career, a dilemma of self-awareness that provides fodder for much of the five-track EP. In "I Always Fall Apart," accompanied only by wistful piano and strings, she tenderly repeats "It's not my fault/It's just my flaw/It's who I am.
Idiosyncratic singer Sharon Van Etten may have titled her new EP I Don't Want To Let You Down, but she sings the title track's verses in a resigned tone, as if she's grown accustomed to the inevitability of such disappointment. That sentiment is echoed by the tune's mopey guitar work. It's an effective but straightforward song, which may come as a surprise to fans of her preceding release, last year's Are We There, which was praised for Van Etten's unflinchingly vulnerable lyricism and vocal tone, along with her unpredictable, distinctly herky-jerky singing style.
On last year’s fourth album ‘Are We There’, Sharon Van Etten documented the end of a decade-long relationship with devastating candour. A year on, this new EP shows her wounds are still healing. “It’s not my fault, it’s just my flaw, it’s who I am”, she sighs over strolling piano chords on centrepiece ‘I Always Fall Apart’. There’s more determination in the title-track’s downbeat Americana twangs, courtesy of The War On Drugs’ Adam Granduciel on guitar, and the live rendition of ‘Tell Me’ is a spirited, though less gripping version of the 2012 demo version.
Just a year after her superb Are We There, which seemed to cap a run of continually more confident and capable releases, singer-songwriter Sharon Van Etten returns with the half-sized I Don’t Want to Let You Down EP. While it might be easy to dismiss an EP as a lesser body of work, this five-song set makes the case that Van Etten is in a period of songwriting where all her music is essential, regardless of the package it’s delivered in. In just 22 minutes, we see Van Etten in a number of different forms, from the piano ballad of “I Always Fall Apart” to the full-band live cut “Tell Me”.
Here's a quick little EP from the ever-industrious Sharon Van Etten, hot on the heels of last year's Are We There, which was deservedly heaped in acclaim. Van Etten has definitely mastered her thing, effortlessly employing her warm and occasionally acrobatic voice for wilting, wry explorations of human relations in all their disappointingness. The title track alone is worth the price of admission here, strumming along right for the heart, bursting forth with Van Etten's trademark vocal harmonies.
Once you’ve told someone, "I don’t want to let you down," there’s really no going back, is there? You know that you have or that you soon will, that something irrevocable has already come to pass. When Sharon Van Etten released 2014’s Are We There, she talked about the imperiled 10-year relationship it documented in the present tense—though lines like "burn my skin so I can’t feel you" didn’t offer much hope for its recovery. In a recent NPR discussion about her new EP, the 34-year-old songwriter said of its subject, "It’s someone I still care about but don’t speak with any more.
It’s probably best not to read too much into what the timing of this new EP from Sharon van Etten actually means for her; she’s always been prolific, as four full-lengths in six years can attest, and she’s in the thick of a world tour, too. It’s certainly not as if her outstanding fourth LP, last year’s Are We There, actually needed a coda of sorts; it was a taut, well-executed and perfectly self-contained affair, and presumably the four studio tracks on I Don’t Want to Let You Down are leftovers from those sessions. You do wonder, though, whether the instrumental choices on the tracks are the reason they didn’t make the cut the first time around, or whether instead Van Etten has chosen to experiment a little, safe in the knowledge that she can do so without interfering with Are We There’s carefully-crafted atmospherics.
Sharon Van Etten finds remarkable might in vulnerability, and her latest does what good EPs should: bushwhacks new paths. "Just Like Blood" pares imbalanced love down to the bone ("You set me off just like a gun/Then you run just like blood") with a string section suggesting unfinished business. The title track and "Pay My Debts" are unusually groove-driven near-pop.
The album artwork for Sharon Van Etten’s last two records was saturated with chiaroscuro, be it Tramp’s tight close-up or Are We There ‘s shot of a driver leaning out the window, a suburban landscape in the background. Her new EP, I Don’t Want to Let You Down, departs from that formula with a glossy photo of Van Etten in a broad, Beck-channeling hat striking the 2008 Obama pose, lens flare obscuring half her face. The only black comes from her brim, the negative space white this time around.
Sharon Van Etten — I Don’t Want to Let You Down EP (Jagjaguwar)Faye Dunaway’s character Wanda, the anti-heroine of Barbet Schroeder’s drunken Bukowski biopic Barfly, drinks, casts an evil eye and even fights her way through her would-be soulmate’s drunken haze of a world. The quiet moments between episodes, however, reveal her to be a fallen star, someone who still might have class, wit, a vocabulary, and a work ethic. She still knows how to get up in the morning and be a pro at whatever absolutely needs it.
Sharon Van Etten's most recent full-length album, Are We There, got perfect marks from me upon its release a year ago, and this new five-song EP is nearly as strong. The Brooklyn singer/songwriter's songs are often worried outpourings of confessions, apologies and anxieties sung to lovers and friends. She's hard on herself - sample song titles: I Always Fall Apart, I Don't Want To Let You Down, Pay My Debts - and she translates those feelings into exquisite melodies, deeply exhaled and searching in tone.