Experience has taught us to be wary of any EP that gets dropped too soon after the release of a full length album –such records are often nothing more than filler, designed to keep an artist in the spotlight for as long as possible. But experience cannot account for a release as good as Sharon Van Etten’s I Don’t Want To Let You Down. There is nothing redundant or profits driven about the EP; nor should it be viewed as a ‘companion piece’ to Van Etten’s masterful Are We There. Instead, this is a beautifully restrained work of art that stands firmly on its own two feet.
Van Etten’s great strength lies in her ability to streamline melancholy and defiance into a single emotion. Though a track like Just Like Blood is born from a place of hurt, it never feels plaintive, or fragile. It’s an anthem that celebrates finding the hope in the hopeless; a song with a broken heart, but thick, thick skin. That said, it’s the piano-led I Always Fall Apart that impresses the most. It’s not only the stand out of the EP: it’s also one of the best songs Van Etten has yet written. From its grounded yet lyric (“you turned me into a museum”), to the understated, impeccable string work that layers itself around Van Etten’s voice like a compliment given to mask a painful truth, it’s a true masterwork.
Tell Me, a live track, rings with honesty and bravery. “Well I don’t know and you don’t mind,” Van Etten sings, her voice trembling with a force and power entirely of its own. There are few artists who sing with Van Etten’s conviction, and fewer still who can straddle the everyday and the poetic as effectively as she does.
As an entry point into the work of a musician at the top of her game, I Don’t Want To Let You Down is an essential release. But it’s more than that too. It’s a blisteringly honest self-portrait. It’s a projection of dreams and desires. It’s a soundtrack, waiting to score your life. And it’s a triumph, from beginning to end.