Sharon Van Etten - I Don't Want to Let You Down - EP

by Justin Pearson Rating:7 Release Date:2015-06-08

Title tracks have a history of being generally likeable. A lot of times they're one of the main stars, the hit that the album or EP takes as its name. However, this isn't quite the case with Sharon Van Etten's latest EP, I Don't Want to Let You Down. Leading the EP, the song sounds a little too generic with its basic guitar chords and lack of dynamics.

Even though unchanging melodies are a Van Etten staple, it's the execution that makes or breaks them. Her past work is characteristically languid in an inviting way, but applied here it seems lacking. It's still something only she could sing, even though her voice feels a little shaky at times.

The rest of the EP, however, is as solid as anything she's done of late, especially 2012's Tramp and last year's Are We There. Powerful imagery abounds on 'Just Like Blood.' "In the ocean/ waves all around/ ...smashing down." Her vocals swell with an achy wail as she sings "You set me off just like a gun/ then you run just like blood." The backing strings swim around to highlight the track's buoyancy.

Piano-led ballad 'I Always Fall Apart' is gorgeous not only in its simplistic delivery, but also in Van Etten's ablility to be plainspoken and compelling in equal measure. "You know it's always been my heart/ You know I always fall apart/ It's not my fault/ it's just my flaw/ It's who I am." It's confessional without being sappy, dripping dry instead of wet. A reclamation of dignity finds her confidence intact: "I need a hand held/ not a pushin'/ I need a way to help me stand/ don't need a crutch... I know who I am and what I've done."

'Pay My Debts' contains verses that crawl and build to a clear-vocaled chorus, reminding us of Van Etten's strength as a singer, while the live version of 'Tell Me' - a demo from the deluxe version of Tramp - demonstrates her ability as a raw performer. The latter, otherwise acoustic number becomes a fully-fleshed song backed by drumming and electric guitar. Just like her studio albums at times capture their own live spontaneity, this one sounds like it could have been recorded as a proper in-studio album track. 

I Don't Want to Let You Down is not so much a separate entity, but an EP in the truest sense of the word. What it mostly does is extend the established - and continuing - mark that Van Etten is leaving as a vital singer-songwriter of her time.

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