It’s heartening to watch an artist evolve the way that Sharon Van Etten has over the past seven years. In that time, she’s grown from a low-key singer-songwriter into someone who sings with gusto, conviction and confidence, and each new album finds her further evolving into a gifted composer and arranger. Last year’s Are We There felt like a culmination of sorts, the final step in Van Etten’s transformation into a true musical force. As such, there isn’t anything wrong with taking a victory lap, which is what she does on I Don’t Want to Let You Down. Few would mistake this five-song EP for the sort of majestical work that precedes it, but it’s still a vital piece of work from a singer-songwriter working at the peak of her powers, and it even points Van Etten in a few new directions.

Lyrically, Sharon Van Etten has always been about the struggle. In her early days, her struggle was getting her music out there after years of being told that she didn’t have the talent to do so. Now, after reaching a degree of success, Van Etten is struggling with relationships. The struggle is external rather than internal, a point made on Are We There that is especially hammered home on I Don’t Want to Let You Down. Here, Van Etten plays the role of the insensitive lover, in a way that’s surprisingly direct and honest. On “I Always Fall Apart,” Van Etten delicately avoids falling into self-pity, admitting her faults but reminding her beloved, “It’s just my flaw/ It’s who I am.

Musically, though, “I Always Fall Apart” is something of an outlier, in that it’s the only song on the EP that features Van Etten playing solo. Elsewhere, Van Etten finds herself backed by a full band and sounding better than ever as a result. The band gives her songs different layers, adding a sense of impending dread to “Pay My Debts” and infusing both the title track and “Just Like Blood” with solemn organs and reverberating guitar. “Just Like Blood” in particular points to an interesting direction for Sharon; while her music has had inflections of country in the past, “I Don’t Want to Let You Down” and “Just Like Blood” are the closest she has come to writing a country song, or an alt-country song at least. Given the direct nature of many of her songs, including the ones on this EP, this development isn’t entirely surprising, but the sound suits both her voice and her songwriting style all the same.

As far as stop-gap releases go, I Don’t Want to Let You Down could have turned out much, much worse. Most artists would have used a release like this to burn off less-than-great material, but the songs here all have their own character and work well as part of a whole. Of course, given what Sharon Van Etten has accomplished as an artist in the past three years, this shouldn’t be surprising. It’s hard to stop when you’re on a roll.

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