Tag Archives: Sharon Van Etten

Serpents in my mind. Are playing video games.

18 Mar

Serpents. Video Games.  These words are connected right now inside my head.

Maybe it’s because as words they sound kinda cool together.

Or maybe it’s because they form the titles of two new songs, both put out by artists with similar-sounding vocal styles, and by women with similar sounding names.

Or maybe it’s because as two women in music, Sharon Van Etten and Lana Del Rey couldn’t be any more different.

And it struck me.

When I first heard Del Ray’s Video Games on a live YouTube clip, I was transfixed — captivated by her nearly perfect beauty, her throaty Nancy Sinatra-esque voice, her ghetto fab earrings, her quivering sexuality. I felt like she had emerged from a 1960s women’s magazine, slapped on some acrylic nails, fake lashes and a gold chain, and picked up the mic to sing as an anachronism in the most natural way.

I found this especially captivating because, as we all know, time travel is most unnatural.

After falling asleep that night I also dreamed of being in his favourite sun dress, watching me get undressed, take that body downtown. Ah. To feel sexy in one’s own sleep through song. Magnificent!

But the more I listened to Video Games, the less I realized I could identify with the lyrics. I could not attach myself at all to the meaning or the message. It’s just so bloody submissive. Case and point:

“It’s you, it’s you, it’s all for you
Everything I do
I tell you all the time
Heaven is a place on earth with you

Tell me all the things you want to do
I heard that you like the bad girls
Honey, is that true? “

Oh, I see.

It’s you. It’s you. It’s all for you?
Everything I do?

Hm. I don’t think that’s true.

Needless to say, months after first hearing this song on YouTube I am still reacting to Lana Del Rey’s ridiculous songwriting inside my head. She’s just so… dormant. Bah. It irritates me.

As Pitchfork reviewer Lindsay Zoladz so articulately wrote,

“… the sexual politics of Born to Die are troubling too: You’d be hard pressed to find any song on which Del Rey reveals an interiority or figures herself as anything more complex than an ice-cream-cone-licking object of male desire.”

Too perfect.

Sharon Van Etten, on the other hand, my god what a magnificent woman.

She is so deep and fragile and strong. She exhibits a simple, pared-down beauty, with her face partly hidden by a curtain of dark chin-length hair. Apparently, Van Etten’s college boyfriend in Tennessee “told her she was shit, hid her guitar, and shoved her back home to New Jersey,” so a great many songs off her previous albums were written in reaction to this toxic relationship. But on her latest album Tramp I can really feel her strength and confidence emerging.

It grows like a sprout throughout my headphones.

Or rather, it’s like Van Etten’s an abused animal gingerly reaching out for love. Because she finally realizes the next blow just isn’t coming.

She’s found her voice and it sounds incredible.

“You enjoy sucking on dreams
so I will fall asleep with someone other than you
I had a thought you would take me seriously
And listen on

Serpents in my mind
I am searching for your crimes
Everything changes
In time”

In terms of imagery, this piece of writing is stunning. It’s active, incongruent, disorienting, like a dream that feels disturbingly close to reality. Or like a living nightmare.

As a piece of psychoanalysis, it’s dark, honest and aware. Her song is about herself.

It’s also about a man, yes, but it’s not about becoming everything a man wants. She is so so so much more than that.

Add a dose of incredible drumming by Matt Barrick of The Walkmen (love) and what you get is a raw, vividly emotive track barbed with bitter lyrics, passionate vocals and heavy-handed guitar — plus the accompaniment of drums dripping with male focus in an almost desperate attempt at simplicity and forward momentum.

I love it. I love it. I love it.

I’ve listened to it dozens of times on my iPhone and I find more in it each and every time. I’m going to see her play with War on Drugs at The Biltmore on March 24 and I could not be more excited. I can’t wait to close my eyes and let Van Etten’s serpents invade my mind.

Maybe she will find some of my crimes?

In conclusion I will leave you with the lyrics for Serpents, which I think are just as brilliant as Van Etten’s voice sounds as it’s crooning out:

It was a close call
Sitting in the back of the room
with a bowl you had owned,
But they didn’t know.
Close in on my black eye.
I feel safe at times.
Certain emblems
Tell me it’s time

Serpents in my mind
Looking for your crimes
Everything changes
I don’t want mine to this time

You enjoy sucking on dreams
so I will fall asleep with someone other than you
I had a thought you would take me seriously
And listen on

Serpents in my mind
I am searching for your crimes
Everything changes
In time

You’ll stay frozen in time
Collaging girls,
Controlling minds.
You hold the mirror well
To everybody else

Serpents in my mind
Trying to forgive your crimes
Everyone changes in time.
I hope he changes this time.