Essential New Music: Sharon Van Etten’s “I Don’t Want To Let You Down”


One of Sharon Van Etten’s talents has always been her ability to make something seem bigger than it actually is. Witness the elegant, um, epic quality of her epic album, her ability to “silence drunken bars” (as TV On The Radio’s Kyp Malone describes) and the deceptively sparse material of this stopgap release. Its overall pace might give tree sap a run for last place, and Van Etten’s voice is up to its usual husky/sugary, barenaked/harmonized tricks, but what sounds like downcast spaciousness is actually riddled with layers of sound complementing the expected morose and heartfelt topics.

Delicate strains of expansive keyboards, splashy drums, electronic waves, wind instruments and classical string sawing come to a climax on “Pay My Debts,” despite being understated and mixed almost subliminally. The instrumentation/production jigsaw puzzle exists in contrast to the folksy vocal rawness, except on the title track, where everything and everyone is at their grandiose best.

—Kevin Stewart-Panko