Every year you get a couple of albums which smoulder across the months, obviously good from the first listen but not immediately revealing just how much they’re going to dominate your listening thereafter. ‘Tramp’ is one such record, arriving in February to much deserved plaudits and with a stark and simple sleeve. It simmers with the anger of a ruined relationship but the gut wrenching emotions at its core do not make for a ‘difficult’ listen. Indeed, this is a powerful crossover record, much like The National‘s ‘High Violet‘ represented a phenomenally high watermark for the band in 2010, after years of producing still excellent music. Aaron Dessner of that band had his oen part to play in this wonderful album, taking on production duties having previously covered a track fom Van Etten‘s previous release ‘Epic‘
Soaring guitars have their place and are sparingly but beautifully deployed throughout a collection of songs united by purpose and content rather than one specific sound. The demure acoustic strum of ‘Ask‘ sits alongside the far spikier ‘Serpents‘, while the mandolin tinged majesty of ‘Leonard‘ is a joy to behold on every listen. It also makes for a rather splendid end to a Best of 2012 compilation, should you be searching for that elusive conclusion. There’s a hint of old PJ Harvey here at times and the staggering vocal lure of prime Cat Power, to attempt to offer a little context. The delicate arrangements cannot entirely mask the stinging lyrical content.
But, whatever ‘Tramp’ might start out as to your ears, it doesn’t take long to assume its own important place in your record collection. The beautiful ‘We Are Fine’ provides details of how Van Etten subdues a panic attack: “trying hard to breathe, head between my knees, take my hand and squeeze, say I’m alright,” blossoming into a folksy duet with Zach Condon of the band Beirut. Although much has been made about the visceral subject matter, not least by the artist herself: “I hate putting negative energy out into the world. But it’s either inside or out. I mean, it’s either get an ulcer or have a fight,” out of emotional pain has come some quite brilliant music.