“I am in awe of the artists who wanted to participate in celebrating my anniversary and reissue, from young inspiring musicians, to artists who took me under their wing, who I met on tour, and to artists I’ve looked up to since I was a teenager. Each one of these artists continue to influence my writing and provide a sense of camaraderie during this new era of sharing music.” – Sharon Van Etten
Along with the timing of the premiere of Epic in 2010: “epic represents a crossroads for me as an artist — going from intern to artist at Ba Da Bing, from solo folk singer to playing with a band for the first time and beginning to play shows on tour where people showed up”. This re-release of Sharon’s (arguably) best, and most valuable work, has had a unique spin taken upon it. It is very rare that you see an album re-released, with no changes by the artist or band; but, including covers by some of those who influenced Van Etten the most is not only a beautiful gesture, but also one of the most personal things for a songwriter to let happen. With Sharon’s success growing throughout the 2010s, and Epic being an album essentially formed by her song writing ability (as a foundation), its re-release has been taken in the direction of each individual style of the artists/bands.
The following is an analytical comparison and commentary blend between the original tracks of Epic, and the covers included on Epic Ten.
Big Red Machine – A Crime
One of Justin Vernon’s aliases, Big Red Machine spun the beautifully simple A Crime into a stunningly wide cover, yet still retaining the intimacy and significance of the lyrics. Van Etten’s A Crime uses the bare bones of any song: a monophonic acoustic guitar, strumming a standard progression of chords paired with a centre-pointed Van Etten vocal – it’s simplicity forces the absorption of the lyrical content. But Justin Vernon, under Bon Iver, under Big Red Machine, under Volcano Choir, manages to reap every implication of every line into the instrumental production. Big Red Machine’s A Crime is a sharpened take, with piercing electric guitars and flurrying basslines that span the stereo-field throughout. The original acoustic guitar is retained, but its inclusion alongside these wholly rhythmic and crashing drum tracks adds a completely new sonic perception to the original.
IDLES – Peace Signs
Sharon Van Etten recorded and produced Epic in 11 days for its release in 2010. Although its simplicity does not make this surprising, its elegance in articulating a unique style, and its diversity to be able to have been re-released as a covers album dual 10 years later is incredible. Van Etten buries her craft in song writing, with each song including nothing, but its inclusion within a structure is incredible. IDLES, musically, take this identity to craft a near like-for-like cover, but with the IDLES politico-punk guitars. Epic’s diversity lies also within its lyrical content and IDLES are masters at communicating anger (in whatever context) explicitly, but perfectly.
Lucinda Williams – Save Yourself
Save Yourself enshrouds pure soul, in both the original and Williams’ cover. An identity through crafting the structure of songs (as repeatedly mentioned) is not only a master’s skill, but inducing a craving into consuming these songs with little emphasis, or change in instrumentation, is what makes Sharon Van Etten one of the greats in her genre. Lucinda’s first impact upon Save Yourself is the driving sub-bass. The woozy guitars, the offset drums and the delayed vocals have all grown and blossomed from the seed of calmness in Van Etten’s original. As we progress through each new cover, it becomes increasingly clear how diverse, yet perfect (in cover and original) Sharon Van Etten’s musicianship is.
Shamir – Dsharpg
Dsharpg is one of the more mellow songs on the re-release, and Shamir does not change this feeling in his cover. His somewhat ‘tinny’ vocals juxtapose the depth of the rattling bass and guitars. In seven (original) tracks on Epic, Sharon Van Etten manages to cover every corner of song within half-an-hour. Dsharpg is on this perpetuating, euphoric climb, but yet, never quite reaches a resolution. This central element of Dsharpg is retained in its purity by Shamir.
By this point in the re-release, even when just listening to the covers, it’s so easy to pin down the coherence between every song – despite the extreme differences in executed style, tone, lyrics; everything is bound to Sharon Van Etten’s song writing. Don’t Do It is a sonic compromise between Barnett/Vagabon and Van Etten, with the original tone being slightly flipped by Barnett and Vagabon, but Van Etten’s song writing has subconsciously appeared to slow down Courtney Barnett’s typical tone.
St. Panther – One Day
A complete anomaly in the re-release, but it, again, works so well. St. Panther is the only artist on this list that is not drawing some element of the original instrumentation. Her drum machines and ‘breezy’ synthesisers execute the song with exactly the same tone as Sharon Van Etten, but as is audible, a completely reversed instrumentation. Even the effects: a slightly vocoded and reverberated vocal, and heavy quantised drum machines would, theoretically, take away a large portion of the fluency Sharon communicates in the original. Every transition, between every section and every bar however, primarily focuses on retaining Van Etten’s musicianship, and everything that the original was written to do and be.
Fiona Apple – Love More
The most vulnerable original track of pulsating and bellowing instruments encompass title solely by how the vocal chorus and bass drown the tempo in sorrow and regret. Fiona Apple never fails to add a niche tone when writing her melodies, and her staccato and vibrato voice heightens the vulnerability and tone of the track to its core. Apple’s version certainly feels a lot colder than Van Etten’s original; both work perfectly despite this.
Sharon Van Etten re-releasing an album alongside covers adds a new perspective to her music specifically, as well as music generally, with IDLES, Big Red Machine and St. Panther being almost a complete inversion of the genre Sharon Van Etten writes herself into. The covers by these artists particularly demonstrate the diversity of Van Etten’s song writing, as well as the almost endless amount of interpretations that can be made when pairing lyrics and music together.
Listen to Epic Ten here.
Featured Image: Jen Rosenstein