TRACK MARKS BEST OF 2014: “Your Love Is Killing Me” by Sharon Van Etten

This week, writers are recounting the best music of 2014. Today’s Track Marks focus on individual songs from albums that didn’t make our collective top five, but did appear on our individual best-album ballots.

Sharon Van Etten may very well have amassed as many break up songs as Taylor Swift in her limited but uniformly excellent discography so far. The difference is when Van Etten sings about her pain, I believe her. Nowhere is that more evident than in this single from her 2014 album Are We There. It has a soft, dirge-y start, an organ grinding over a steady, ghostly beat. Van Etten has the sort of chameleon-like voice that can be both threadbare and galvanizing at any given moment and when she begins singing the lyrics here she’s barely above a whisper. That changes abruptly with the bridge, where the song’s title becomes more than just metaphor.

“Break my legs so I won’t walk to you,” she howls, her voice forceful but never strident. “Cut my tongue so I can’t talk to you.” This is not just a song depicting an abusive relationship but a song about the seductions of such intense bonds. It’s the harm we allow others to do to us but also the harm we do to ourselves, sometimes even the harm we need to do to ourselves. It’s a sledgehammer of a song and while its subject matter can make it a difficult listen, it’s also stunningly beautiful for the contradictions it inhabits: the strength in Van Etten’s voice against the vulnerability of her lyrics, a declaration of self living beside the destruction of it. The part of us that knows better and the part that doesn’t care. This is the state Van Etten’s music often finds her in and I’m happy to meet her there.