Sharon Van Etten
epic Ten


3.7
great

Review

by Rowan5215 STAFF
April 20th, 2021 | 21 replies


Release Date: 04/16/2021 | Tracklist

Review Summary: Breathing life into lifeless spaces.

Sharon Van Etten's epic is the best album ever made. Not 'objectively', or whatever, but once I'm waist deep in the album's intoxicating, speech-defying, utterly unique world it's all the same to me. Without fail, around the point where "Dsharpg" gets its hooks in me, I stop making qualifications or trying to force objectivity: for the next 20 minutes this will be the greatest album ever made, and I'm very okay with it.

"It would seem that when a song is set free into the world, it becomes everyone's, and anyone's." Those are Adrianne Lenker's words for the epic Ten re-release, and while I told myself to lean on subjectivity here, one could certainly do worse than having Adrianne goddamn Lenker write liner notes for a tribute where Fiona goddamn Apple is covering your best song. Lenker is right, of course - music is an entirely personal experience, a complex chemistry between song and individual and time and place that will never quite be the same with any of those variables changed. Like Fiona Apple taking the borderline spiritual event of "Love More", one of the most bruisingly personal pieces of music ever made, and gently making it her own. Like Justin Vernon and Aaron Dessner cutting their most raw recording in years in deference to the original "A Crime". Like me, surrending myself to "Dsharpg" with no reservations every time. The best music is something you and I will never hear quite the same, or even be able to fully explain to one another, and Sharon Van Etten makes the best music on the fucking planet.

As is the way with covers albums, there's plenty on epic Ten I find misses the mark. It absolutely rests on Big Red Machine and Fiona Apple's heavy lifting with the bookends; IDLES and Courtney Barnett deliver fine but uninspiring retreads of the originals, whereas more electronic indie-pop renderings of "Dsharpg" and "One Day" absolutely pale in comparison. That's fine, though. They're out in the world now, for anyone who wants to claim them, and I will always have the original album, which is frankly what I'm actually writing about in this review. It's a nice opportunity to look back. epic is essential to me, and seeing musicians of a certain calibre drawn to the sometimes thankless task of covering it tells me that epic is essential to many other people too. Again, folks, Fiona Apple dropped in on this party – must be something here worth celebrating, yeah?

What I'm driving at is that epic is truly one of a kind, even if its constituent parts don't sound groundbreaking in isolation. Take the first two songs, solid indie rock tunes which make their point (including one of indie's truly great first-line kiss-offs, "to say the things I wanna say to you would be a crime") and get out with a minimum of fuss. They're simplistic, but they set the scene, only for the album to give way to an increasingly complex succession of masterpieces. "Save Yourself" and "One Day" see Van Etten interrogate thorny relationships with a wry sense of humour wrapped around languid country melodies, while "Don't Do It" takes on a pleading tone that echoes Third Eye Blind's "Jumper" without the insufferable Stephan Jenkins of it all. But the centre- and endpieces of the album cement it as a true classic. We've seen more bands than I care to name or listen to take influence from The Beatles' frothy psychedelic pieces, slathering their music in peppy McCartneyisms and loose conceptual arcs. epic deserves acclaim for, if nothing else, drawing from a far more interesting well, building its tentpole tracks around steady Eastern drones which completely upend the tone of the album, just like George Harrison way back when.

But where "Within You Without You" deserves all the props for totally fucking up the vibe of McCartney's overblown concept album, Sharon Van Etten writes albums purely from her own perspective, clear-eyed and content with cutting through the layers of bullshit indie rock thrives on. It's there in "Don't Do It", the bulk of the song comprised of the chillingly straight plea "if you want to do it, you will if you want to" followed by a final line that slams down with the weight of a cathedral bell: "I wish I could make you right". It's there in "Dsharpg", riding a refrain of "what if I do?" across six minutes with the feeling that it could easily stretch into eternity. Without a single doubt, it is a contributor to what makes "Love More" the greatest song of the decade, even if it's only my greatest song of the decade. The unflinching, unwavering autopsy of an abusive relationship Van Etten's work frequently returns to is here summed up in a few devastating lines: "yeah you chained me like a dog in our room / and I thought that's how it was, I thought we were doing fine." It's heart-stopping when the song circles around from that darkness to the refrain, "it made me love, it made me love more" - a grace note to a relationship, a career or an entire goddamn life, one of the most genuinely perfect lines I've heard in music.

I have no sweeping observations to offer epic, no poetry to sum it up (Adrianne Lenker has already put anything the rest of us would ever write about this album to shame), and certainly no closing argument to claim its place in the indie-rock canon, or whatever we're supposed to do with albums on their anniversary. All I have to offer epic is my undivided time and attention, and every time I hit play, that's exactly what it gets.



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user ratings (13)
3.6
great

Comments:Add a Comment 
Rowan5215
Staff Reviewer
April 20th 2021


45446 Comments

Album Rating: 3.7

writing this convinced me to snap a 5 on the original but the covers album is around a 3 so I went ahead and split the difference



props to Lenker for the summary quote and saying the thing I wanted to say infinitely better and smarter than I could

Digging: Adjy - The Idyll Opus (I-VI)

Pheromone
Contributing Reviewer
April 20th 2021


14963 Comments


wait what the bloody hell is this

will read soon, please review are we there

Digging: Moral Decay - To Build an End

Rowan5215
Staff Reviewer
April 20th 2021


45446 Comments

Album Rating: 3.7

as if anything could top robin's Are We There review :*

Cormano
April 20th 2021


2797 Comments


man I didn't know this was out already
great read

Rowan5215
Staff Reviewer
April 21st 2021


45446 Comments

Album Rating: 3.7

cheers Falkor

Dewinged
Staff Reviewer
April 21st 2021


24835 Comments


Last album had some good ones but I'm surprised how little traction this got so far. I may give it a check.

Digging: Nightwish - Wishmaster

Rowan5215
Staff Reviewer
April 21st 2021


45446 Comments

Album Rating: 3.7

well it is just a covers album, but the lack of attention the Fiona Apple one has been getting is truly baffling to me



not enough people have heard the original album tho

theBoneyKing
April 21st 2021


20682 Comments


Yeah, I like the original well-enough but not enough to be super into a full cover of it even if there are some great artists on it.

Dewinged
Staff Reviewer
April 21st 2021


24835 Comments


"well it is just a covers album" Needless to say I haven't read your review yet Rowbro ;)

A covers album huh, well that would explain it yep.

Rowan5215
Staff Reviewer
April 21st 2021


45446 Comments

Album Rating: 3.7

I had suspected as much dewi but I didn't want to believe!

BlushfulHippocrene
Staff Reviewer
April 21st 2021


3683 Comments


epic review brother

(Lovely words. Am equally not super feeling a lot of the covers, but this has forced me to re-listen to the originals, and I am very glad for it.)

JohnnyoftheWell
Staff Reviewer
April 21st 2021


38902 Comments


has ten years been long enough for us to appreciate epic or does good art demand an extra 4 days?

Digging: The Flashbulb - Kirlian Selections

AmericanFlagAsh
April 21st 2021


10285 Comments

Album Rating: 4.0

I really love like every cover, super well done

Digging: Darkside - Spiral

Nocte
Staff Reviewer
April 22nd 2021


14528 Comments


Great read Rowan, is it just me or are some releases flying under the radar this year that really deserve the spotlight?

JohnnyoftheWell
Staff Reviewer
April 22nd 2021


38902 Comments


otay:onii

Rowan5215
Staff Reviewer
April 22nd 2021


45446 Comments

Album Rating: 3.7

cheers Nocte. this year has had a lot of under-the-radar rippers for sure, maybe it's the flood of stuff that was pushed back last year starting to drop



frankly epic ten isn't really one of those, but the original album has been overlooked for a decade so I guess that counts

botulist
April 22nd 2021


585 Comments


have only heard apple's cover so far, and i'm not a fan. the original is such a gutting, honest, brutal moment, and van etten's strong but simple vocals of having lived it make it the brilliant song it is. apple's mannered vox neuter that moment.

Atari
Staff Reviewer
April 22nd 2021


26686 Comments


really love that summary



Digging: Lauryn Hill - The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill

Rowan5215
Staff Reviewer
April 23rd 2021


45446 Comments

Album Rating: 3.7

that Adrianne Lenker sure knows how to write words huh

Parallels
April 30th 2021


9153 Comments


Epic is one of the best folk albums ever. One Day and Don't Do It would easily make a top 100 songs ever list for me.

Great Review too



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