I Don't Want to Let You Down

I Don't Want to Let You Down

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Sharon Van Etten has never needed much room to make a grand statement. With four albums during the last six years, she’s become one of music’s most astute new cartographers of the heart, able to capture emotional trials and triumphs with incisive lines and a voice that loses nothing in the translation and transmission of feelings. Her second record, epic, needed only seven tracks to live up to its title. 2012’s Tramp and 2014’s Are We There, went longer, but Van Etten managed still to squeeze enormous sentiments into especially small spaces. From start to rising stardom, Van Etten has forever understood the impact of economy.

It should come as no surprise, then, that the five-song EP I Don’t Want to Let You Down offers documents of surrender and disappointment, admission and longing in only 22 minutes. Produced by Van Etten and Stewart Lerman, who also helmed Are We There, these songs are as sophisticated as anything Van Etten has ever done. Supported by a string section during “I Always Fall Apart,” Van Etten’s voice rises alongside her piano. Her prismatic harmonies betray the terror of the song’s central admission and one of the new lyrical cornerstones of her catalogue: “You know I always fall apart/It’s not my fault/It’s just my flaw/It’s who I am.”

During the title track, she slowly pushes her voice past an introductory murmur, as if scanning her surroundings for the resolve to be stronger and more steadfast than she knows she has been. Building across four minutes, the desperation of the title is expressed through guitars that get bigger, harmonies that get broader. The chorus is a sing-along commandment, an indelible promise Van Etten makes to be better. The War on Drugs’ Adam Granduciel and David Hartley join Antibalas’ Stuart Bogie, Peter Broderick and Heather Woods-Broderick for “Pay My Debts.” The longest song here, it’s a cinematic number that smolders like shoegaze before climaxing into an inescapable seesaw refrain.

The EP ends with a live rendition of “Tell Me.” A demo from Tramp, but backed here by her four-piece touring band, the tune becomes a kind of battle cry for respect and a charged pronouncement of Van Etten’s cultivated powers. It’s a map of the singer’s progression from an acoustic songwriter to a bona fide bandleader, a reminder of the poignancy and efficiency her work has long paired.

Sharon Van Etten I Don't Want To Let You Down EP Track Listing:

1. I Don't Want To Let You Down
2. Just Like Blood
3. Always Fall Apart
4. Pay My Debts
5. Tell Me (Live)

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