Sharon Van Etten – Mike McDermott

December 28, 2011

There’s a striking intimacy to Sharon Van Etten’s sound; it’s as if, with each of her tracks, she pulls you aside, away from the drone of the crowd, to have a private conversation of honesty and understanding. That isn’t to say that Van Etten’s music feels small, claustrophobic or unambitious, but rather that, whether a track is meant to be a private tune or a public opus, she always manages to make you feel as though you are privy to something–a confidante of sorts. On “Mike McDermott”, a non-album b-side that was just released, Van Etten certainly leaves her folk-rock comfort zone, uglying up her voice and the mix with a grit-and-grime that isn’t found on Because I was in Love or Epic. But this deviation from her usual sonic identity pays off, not just because of the depth added by Peter Silberman’s haunting backup vocals and Sufjan Stevens’ synth solo, but because “Mike McDermott” is firmly stamped with Van Etten’s emotional watermark–disarming honesty and genuine empathy. See, with SVE, there’s no mediation between listener and artist; what you hear is what you get, and it’s utterly refreshing. The much-anticipated Tramp is due out in February.