Song of the Day: Sharon Van Etten – Serpents

Every Monday through Friday, we deliver a different song as part of our Song of the Day podcast subscription. This podcast features exclusive KEXP in-studio performances, unreleased tracks, and recordings from independent artists that our DJs think you should hear. Each and every Friday we offer songs by local artists. Today’s selection, featured on the Afternoon Show with Cheryl Waters, is “Serpents” by Sharon Van Etten from the 2012 album Tramp on Jagjaguwar Records.

Sharon Van Etten – Serpents (MP3)

Brooklyn-based singer/songwriter Sharon Van Etten is the type of performer who can get an entire audience to forget about their small talk, bring their PBRs down from their lips, and stare dumbly at the stage, just by opening her mouth. Though bubbly and quirky between songs, as soon the music starts Van Etten’s mesmerizing voice takes the entire room captive, and those present are usually so enraptured that it feels like you could hear a pin drop if not for the music itself. Not only can Van Etten go it alone in a darkened venue, she proved at Bumbershoot that she is fully capable of rocking a festival crowd, as well.

On February 7, Van Etten will release Tramp, her third full-length album and the follow-up to 2010’s spectacular release, Epic. Judging by the title, I think it’s a safe bet to assume that the new album will not mark a departure from the dark, emotional, affecting, and often cold-hearted love songs that have become Van Etten’s trademark, complimenting her mop of jet black hair. Today’s featured track, “Serpents,” is further proof that Van Etten hasn’t taken to rainbows or lollipops on the new record. The instrumentation is swirling and ominous as she snarls vitriolic lyrics (“You enjoy sucking on drinks / So I will fall asleep with someone other than you”) between lilting choruses of “Serpents in my mind / I am searching for your crimes.”


Though Van Etten is sticking with what she knows thematically, she continues to progress as a recording artist. Her 2009 debut, Because I Was In Love, was a stark solo venue; she then enlisted a band to help her record and tour Epic; and now, in addition to a band, several guest musicians appear on Tramp, including Zach Condon of Beirut, Thomas Bartlett of Doveman, Juliana Barwick, Aaron Dessner of The National (who produced the album and recorded it in his studio), as well as Matt Barrick, the amazing drummer of The Walkmen. The additional help is readily apparent on “Serpents,” which features Barrick’s drumming and Wye Oak’s Jenn Wasner’s beautifully layered vocals. Regardless of how many extra hands Van Etten employs, it would be impossible to dilute the presence and impact of Van Etten herself. Just check her out live and you’ll see and hear what I mean; she’s be playing at The Neptune in Seattle on March 25 (for a complete list of tour dates, click here.)

Van Etten gave one of the most memorable KEXP in-studio performances of 2010; and as a result, the live version of her song “One Day,” off Epic, is featured on Live at KEXP Volume 7. Check out the video of that performance here:

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