Words by Sean Moeller, Illustration by Johnnie Cluney, Sound engineering by Mike Gentry
The scene begins with a room pitched in blackness, but somewhere a little ways in, there in the center of the room that you can barely make out, a match strikes and the small whoosh of a fire being birthed from nothing breaks the silence and that blackness. A cupped hand protects the light from any movements as it's gently touched to a single candle's wick. The candle will wind up lasting for just under 45 minutes and during the time that it flickers, it will cast a drowsy, buttered glow to the room and upon the woman playing the guitar and singing these songs without insecurities. It sets into a feeling that justifies a ceasing of breath so that all can be heard and all can be given without apprehension. The woman, Sharon Van Etten, keeps you hushed as she spills herself like molten, boneless glue slipping down her body and touchingly onto the floor like a slow-rising flood of emotion. You're off in a trance as she "paints pictures with my tongue," all of which are of the wretched passion colors - of blood orange, grapefruit pink and faint reds. Her debut album, "Because I Was In Love," is one that we take into our arms so willingly. We hug it deeply and we rub its back tenderly as the sobbing convulsions iron themselves out into their easy ripples and finally to their tranquility where they'll rest eventually.
"You reach for my hand slowly/I did not pull away/We did not have to be lips to face/My toe hit your toe lightly/Your toe met my heel right back/And I don't think I need much more than that." - from "Much More Than That." Van Etten gives us puppy love in a way that makes it more honest and endearing than any like it we've ever heard and it's enough to make us vulnerably submit to her ways.
On this album, Van Etten is a flower that's had all of its petals removed, plucked out individually with a flip of the wrist and a child's all-or-nothing claim with each. The token love being represented by each waxy, death row petal either a loves me or a loves me not. With the tone that the Brooklyn songwriter takes on each song here, it's rather obvious which piece of the prose the last petal fell to. The way she sings - depressed but in survival mode, not withering, but not thriving - your impulses make you want to drop to your hands and knees, gather up all of those petals scattered like forgotten feathers on the ground, pick them all up and find a way to reconnect them. You're willing to do whatever it might take to fix the brokenness, for the abandoned love that she's mourning might still be able to be mended. It's what we hope for her because even in such pain on "Because I Was In Love," Van Etten - in this aftermath - sounds as if she didn't deserve this. She sounds as if she deserves another soft heart to lie down with, to join with. It's an album that leaves you feeling weary, hoping to high heaven that you've never hurt anyone the way she was hurt, that you've never separated from another and stolen part of them along the way. It makes you want to give it all back, everything you may have ever taken that wasn't yours. In your own darkened room, you silently ask for forgiveness, in case you've been worse than you believe you've been.