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Sharon Van Etten: Tramp (Jagjaguwar) 

Sharon Van Etten's in-your-face songwriting has severed all ties with folk music on her third album, an edgy and moody burst of guitar rock.

The shift is evident right from the album cover, a close-up photograph of Van Etten in starkly contrasting black and white. Compare that to the wispy orange and yellow lines that made up the portrait on her previous album, 2010's Epic.

Though Van Etten's lyrics are again intimate, detailed and direct, the music has grown into a taut and muscular beast, not unrecognizable from her previous work, but clearly the mature version. The National guitarist Aaron Dessner shares Tramp's production with Van Etten, adding colors and textures that provide a whole other level of emotional support for her lyrics and voice.

First single "Serpents" is a sharply strummed song about failings, temptations and betrayal, with haunting lines of guitar feedback slicing through Van Etten's wailing vocals: "Serpents in my mind / Looking for your crimes / Everything changes / I don't want mine to this time."

"Give Out" is a tense meditation on self-reliance and reinvention, about what to do and where to move after the heartache. It's about moving forward, whether out of desperation or confidence.

Though that familiar sense of vulnerability isn't entirely absent from this batch of songs, Tramp has a much more prevalent confidence—sometimes angry, sometimes fearless, sometimes reckless. It's that sort of swagger that most exemplifies the artistic progress on Tramp. For the first time, Van Etten's voice sounds like it can sling bruises as effectively as it chronicles them.

More by Eric Swedlund

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