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Western musical styles have always held the drone at arm’s length. The musical traditions of other cultures–from India to the Middle East to Siberia to Australia–have historically embraced the inherent hypnotic tug of sustained tones, undertones, and overtones slipping and sliding against each other. However, aside from the Scots and their bagpipes, Europeans haven’t been too terribly keen on the drone. It’s generally been relegated to the avant-garde in Western culture, with The Beatles, The Velvet Underground and the shoegaze bands championing it in pop music (but those people have always been considered a bit weird anyway).
So it’s something of a surprise to hear a Brooklyn folkie like Sharon Van Etten building a song atop a drone that could have come straight off a vintage Tony Conrad album. Instead, it’s lifted from her confidently titled new record, Epic, due out October 5th on Ba Da Bing. “Love More” is a mesmerizing thing, a slow, steady, sturdy bedrock upon which other instruments come and go until Etten’s vocals arrive, followed by the guitars and percussion, bringing the elements more commonly associated with Brooklyn folkies.
It’s that unyielding drone in the background that gives the spare instrumentation of the rest of the song feel epic–the muted guitars, Etten’s multi-tracked vocals, and the deliberate drumbeats. As they swell together during the finale of the song, they sell the hard-won lessons of a failed relationship just as effectively with pure sound as the lyrics do with words.
It’s been twenty-two years since the Cowboy Junkies first turned heads by mixing roots music with The Velvets’ ambience. It’s good to hear someone like Sharon Van Etten demonstrate that the combination is still far from played out.