Compared with Sharon Van Etten’s downbeat 2009 debut Because I Was In Love, the new Epic really does sound larger than life. On the first album, the Brooklyn folkie’s gorgeously muted meditations on a ravaged romantic relationship attempted to replicate the emotional numbness of her home recordings. On Epic, Van Etten steps out with a sensitive crew of backing musicians and exhibits a newfound (and incredibly becoming) assertiveness. “I am not afraid, I am something,” she sings on “Peace Signs,” but the song’s rousingly angry martial stomp is what really sticks the fork in her romantic wound-licking. The knowing steel-guitar stunner “Save Yourself” emanates hard-won wisdom over a confident country-rock stroll, but even when Van Etten is backed only by her acoustic guitar on “A Crime,” the forcefulness of her delivery and lyrics is striking. “To say the words I want to say to you would be a crime,” she seethes, and she keeps strumming harder and harder until listeners believe it. Epic might be a transitional work, but it finds Van Etten moving toward a strong, exciting sound.
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