Sharon Van Etten
(Ba Da Bing)
There’s something about Sharon Van Etten’s voice that bleeds European, like a thick ichor of mead flowing from the pierced heart of an injured goddess. In fact, she’s quite American, and there are noticeable traces of time she spent in Tennessee: occasional bluesy, whiskey-flavored vocal tones and vaguely Southern drawls, even some Liz Phair-style brazen lyrical attitude. Still, the thick, wet production and drippy melodies taste like Radiohead or The Cranberries to the ear, and there’s even a hint of Amy Winehouse in Etten’s voice. The instrumentation, backing band parts and harmony vocals are minimalist—probably a remnant of Nashville studio training camp. Any way you dice it, it’s clear that on Epic, you’re getting something of a rare peek into the soft center of someone who sounds like she’d usually skin you alive with a glance from behind her (mercilessly European) cigarette. —Tom Sturm
Death Stays Awake
Death Stays Awake is a three-track offering from Kane Gelaznik (also of El Spectre and other local acts) under the moniker Lover. The surreal, abstract effort, which clocks in under 10 minutes, covers more ground than such a short time should allow.
“Greece” in particular offers surreal images of physical breakdown over cheerful, minimal guitar melodies with a strong Bon Iver influence, and later shifts toward a moodier realm, with Avey Tare-like digital washes, rushing aural winds and jarring drones. —Paul Bachand
You can put it on the list right now—Danilo Perez’ Providencia is one of the 10 best jazz CDs of 2010. The Panamanian pianist has made his reputation with his ability to turn the staid and expected into something special, and Providencia is a major statement from him, asserting his abilities as composer, performer, arranger and bandleader. Always at his best with sax greats, Perez works here with the outstanding young alto sax player Rudresh Mahanthappa, and at times they call to mind the Coltrane-Tyner team of the mid-’60s, particularly on “The Maze” and the elegy for Perez’s former teacher, “The Oracle (Dedicated to Charlie Banacos).” The album is full of shifting, almost cinematic sounds, written primarily by Perez. He never hesitates to add a bassoon here, a wordless vocal there, even a steelpan to create music that is subtle, yet full of romance and emotion. —Jeffrey Siegel