There’s a great clip on YouTube of singer-songwriter Sharon Van Etten playing “People Ain’t No Good,” by Nick Cave, whom she toured with last year. It’s a telling footnote to her magnificent fourth LP, which grows her trademark examinations of romantic decay to cathedral-like scale. Like Cave, her darkness contains multitudes.
The centerpiece comes early: “Your Love Is Killing Me” is a six-minute dirge opening with funereal organ and a laundry list of violent fantasies that build to guitar crescendos. “Taste blood/Everybody needs to feel,” she sings, sounding like Tilda Swinton sipping O-positive in last year’s arty vampire film Only Lovers Left Alive. The palette is less guitar-centered than Van Etten’s 2012 breakthrough, Tramp. Keyboards and woodwinds shroud processed beats; “Our Love” is nearly an Eighties synth ballad but for lines like “At the bottom of a well/I’m reliving my own hell.” The tonal purity of Van Etten’s voice, and her remarkable feel for harmonies, remain her signatures. But after all the heart surgery, the closer, “Every Time the Sun Comes Up,” pulls back the curtain a bit: “People say I’m a one-hit wonder, but what happens when I have two?” she asks cheekily. Define “hit” as you like; that she’s a wonder, there’s no doubt.