Music Review: Bowden On The Civil Wars and Van Etten

Ms. Bowden likes music

Lydia Bowden, guest music critic for Eyewear, weighs in on two recent albums

An inspiring mixture of country/folk, The Civil Wars is made up of a duo featuring John Paul White and Joy Williams. Their album Barton Hollow at first listen is made up of a lonesome guitar and perfect melodies, both contributing to a rather haunting sound, but listen to the whole album, and you’ll hear something totally unforgettable.

If I was asked to choose a song that both makes me cry and feel an ounce of hope, ‘Poison and Wine’ is my first choice. The heartbreaking tone to their voices makes you really feel what they are singing about, you can literally hear the pain experienced in their husky, yet, mournful voices. The song is backed by a simple guitar melody, with the line, ‘Oh I don’t love you but I always will’ sung over and over which is clearly a contradiction, but it hits you in all the right places. The entire album is a soundtrack to life, love and loss and very much so; heartbreak. Other favourites include, the title song ‘Barton Hollow’, which has a kick to it; a bit of attitude, which levels out the album as a whole and ‘My Father’s Father’, which has the sweetest beat of a subtle hit on the side of an acoustic guitar; this would be enchanting to listen to at a live gig and I intend on grabbing a ticket ASAP. Finally, ‘The Violet Hour’, that brings together the soothing notes of a piano and a guitar; the collaboration of the two instruments can only be described as something magical; movie worthy, and what’s more there’s no vocal, which adds to the sorrowful quality of the song.

Having won two Grammys already, the duo are set to be a huge hit. Having released the album in the US last year, it has finally made its way over the pond and onto every indie folk’s speakers. If you’re not into country music, this is something with a pleasant twist. I’d call them a slightly more cheerful The xx with less of that beat, so if you’re a fan of them, just give it a quick listen. I promise, you won’t be disappointed.

Now, a dark and slightly twisted sound comes from Sharon van Etten’s Tramps. Full of confessions and personal opinions on love and loss and on the same page in subjects to that of The Civil Wars, Etten has slowly appeared from nowhere with this diamond of an album.

Having released her first records, Because I Was In Love followed by Epic, Etten was noticed by the wonderful Bon Iver’s Justin Vernon. Since then, she has created this album and written every last word herself. Each song is one element of a rainbow of emotions, from honesty to spitefulness and back again, it’s as if Etten has opened up her mind for all to hear. A talented writer and more, it is effectively poetry written down on a page. The most talked about track, ‘Give Out’ highlights her situation in love, she says, ‘You’re the reason why I’ll move to the city or/ Why I’ll need to leave’ and with a constant rhythm of a broken-hearted acoustic guitar, you feel her bruised opinion on relationships and much more that have obviously come from personal experience- and that is what is so great about this album; it’s integrity. Etten is supported by backing vocalist, Heather Woods throughout the album, and without her crucial contribution, it wouldn’t give it that desperate, women-in-love implication. ‘Serpents’ has this incredible revengeful feeling to it, and the electric guitar that gradually gets louder towards the chorus sounds like it’s full of fury, and it has the right to be, from the line, ‘You enjoy sucking on dreams, so I will fall asleep with someone other than you’ it has an obvious intention to inject this into the listener. From this, to the other end of the scale, there’s ‘Kevin’s’, which is much softer in the acoustic and gloomy vocals, but nevertheless still makes it’s point to an ex lover, just as much as the other songs do.

I couldn’t possibly criticise this album, but if anything, I would advise not to listen to it after a break-up. Etten’s brutally honest lyrics will hit you right in the heart and you’ll be left in a snivelling mess- and just the same with The Civil Wars, both possess the ability to take all your emotions, crush them in their palms and throw them at the wall. Katy Perry, next?

Lydia Bowden studies Creative Writing with English Literature at Kingston University.