Among the many this New Jersey singer-songwriter thanks on her third album are Aaron and Bryce Dessner (the National), Kyp Malone (TV on the Radio) and Zach Condon (Beirut); her “recommended listening” list of almost 30 includes Bon Iver, Kurt Vile and War on Drugs; and the album is dedicated to John Cale.
All valid reference points for her folk-poetry gone to indie.rock with a touch of sonic drone or cello to make the insecurities in her lyrics all the more unsettling.
Van Etten deals in emotional hurts and physical wounds (“Close in on my black eye, I feel safe . . . at times” on the brittle and angry Serpents) but doesn't play the victim, rather admits to failings and asserts she deserves better.
It makes for a collection both personal and universal, and which moves towards the light as a relationship ends (Leonard), she recovers, takes a chance again (the beautifully unsettling In Line, the slightly uncertain We Are Fine) but ends with the usual doubts (I'm Wrong and the holy Joke or a Lie).
Married to quietly assertive rock textures (from the Dessners, drummer Matt Barrick of the Walkmen and others), Van Etten's often crystalline vocals carry this emotional weight and convey the shifts of focus, and that makes for an album of mature, intelligent writing delivered with seductive conviction.
Love may hurt, but that can make for fine songs. Recommended.
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By Graham Reid, posted