It’s good to have friends in high places and it seems to be just as helpful to have admirers too. Back in 2010, Bon Iver’s Justin Vernon and Aaron Dessner from The National took to the stage together to perform a cover of ‘Love More’ by Sharon Van Etten. The story goes that upon hearing Dessner had covered her song, Van Etten contacted him and they arranged to work together. After a year of sporadic recording sessions in Dessner’s garage, Tramp had emerged. The album features cameos from a number of acclaimed artists: Matt Barrick from the Walkmen, Thomas ‘Doveman’ Bartlett, Beirut’s Zach Condon, Wye Oak’s Jenn Wasner and Julianna Barwick, as well as both brothers Dessner. It certainly says something for Van Etten’s reputation that she has managed to gather such an ensemble to work with her.

In the seven songs that made up her second album Epic, Van Etten showed real promise. Tramp is the point where her ambition and talent has come to fruition. Themes of love and loss run consistently throughout the album and there is often an air of melancholy, but individually, the songs are quite diverse. Luckily, Van Etten has the ability to be as affecting on a minimal acoustic track as she does on a full blown Americana rock number. This owes to the focal point of the album; her vocals. She possesses a hauntingly beautiful voice that she can float effortlessly and remarkably up to, and through notes that most can only dream of. Along with this talent comes the gift of melody, and throughout Tramp Van Etten proves that she can write exquisite, intricate and difficult melody lines. The album is so littered with transcendental vocals that you begin to take them for granted by the latter half.

Opener ‘Warsaw’ would sit nicely on PJ Harvey’s Stories from the City, Stories from the Sea with its boldly strummed open chords. Despite being a relatively short introduction to the album, it shows both Van Etten’s strength and fragility. She sounds comfortable and confident but beneath the bravado she is delicate; "I want to be over you, I want to show you" she sings repeatedly, as if she is talking to herself. ‘Give Out’ continues her train of thought, and is one of the album’s highlights. The song slowly builds with an acoustic guitar strummed morbidly. The wonderful transition from verse to chorus shows Van Etten’s real instinct for where the song should go. It is a heartbreaking poignant piece presented in a minimal shell.

The artist that bears most resemblance to Van Etten is Jeff Buckley. Both have magical voices and Van Etten’s songs are similar in style to what Buckley was writing on Grace. Both have embraced rock music from a singer-songwriter perspective and there is also a shared fondness for a bit of melodrama. ‘Kevin’s’ shows notable influence, as does ‘All I Can’, Van Etten’s slow building, alternative power ballad. ‘Leonard’ sounds like one of Laura Marling’s more cheerful moments, whereas ‘Magic Chords’ is a dark, ominous track led by marching drums and organ. Here, Van Etten laments "You’ve got to lose sometimes."

Elsewhere, the tumultuous lead single ‘Serpents’ plays out like an angry stream of consciousness. The song circles while Van Etten becomes increasingly agitated. "You enjoy sucking on dreams, so I will fall asleep with someone other than you" she spits. Dessner’s production is most obvious here, ‘Serpents’ sounds like the feisty younger sister of ‘Bloodbuzz Ohio'. ‘In Line’ sees Van Etten spread her wings. The song features many buried backing vocals that are like ghostly apparitions occupying the space beneath. After three minutes or so, the song explodes, Van Etten slaying her demons by repeating the song’s title in what sounds like a painful redemption. ‘We are Fine’ is the only dud track on the record. It is pleasant enough, but compared to everything else it is certainly more lightweight and seems to exist as a means to accommodate Zach Condon. The penultimate ‘I’m Wrong’ shows Van Etten at her most raw and mournful, singing over an expansive sound that layers up. At any moment the song threatens to self combust but instead it gently calms.

Throughout Tramp, Van Etten always seems on the edge of despair, "Like cigarette ash, the world is collapsing around me" she sings on ‘Ask’. However, by the end of the album her character and strength triumphs, albeit maybe with a few scars. Doubtlessly, Tramp has been a means of catharsis, and in the process Van Etten has created a stunning piece of work. It is an album full of passion, beauty, talent and fantastic songs.