Sharon Van Etten recently reissued her 2021 album We’ve Been Going About This All Wrong as a deluxe vinyl version with a few bonus songs. To commemorate that, I’m going to take a look at the 7-inch single for my long-time favorite song by her: Serpents with the B-side Mike McDermott.
“Serpents” was the third track on Sharon Van Etten’s 2012 album Tramp which was her third proper album (not counting over half a dozen self-released CDr albums released between 2005 and 2008). It was also her first LP to be released on Jagjaguwar Records.
Take a look at my video review and unboxing below:
I have loved this song since I first heard it, which was somewhere between 2011 and 2012. I also remember getting super excited when a rendition of the song made an appearance in season 4 of The Walking Dead.
It’s raw, vulnerable, provocative.
In my “first listen” review from 2012, I wrote the following (which holds true today):
Here, she shatters the quietude of the stripped-down acoustic guitar of that earliest album with a folk-rock piece that is utterly haunting. The track is stunning, including rock-centric guitar riffs and a fair share of emotion and angst.
Jenn Wasner makes an appearance on backup vocals on “Serpents.” If that name sounds familiar it’s because she is one half of the duo and the vocalist in Wye Oak out of Baltimore. She also fronts Flock of Dimes, currently signed to Sub Pop.
This 7-inch for “Serpents” was released in 2011 and, as far as I can tell, it contains a slightly different version than the studio recording that ended up on Tramp. I could be wrong on this fact, but listening to the single vs the album versions, there seems to be subtle differences.
“Mike McDermott” Review
For the longest time, I thought the song title for “Mike McDermott” referenced a US Representative from Washington, but his name was Jim, not Mike. And the lyrics also are anything but political.
A quick Google Search yields five Wikipedia pages for Mike McDermott:
- A competitor in the 1912 Olympics who passed in 1970
- An American baseball player who died in 1943
- A Republican member of the Maryland House of Representatives
- A Northern Irish football player (which in US-terms means Soccer)
- The poker player played by Matt Damon in the 1998 movie Rounders.
I doubt it’s about any of those, though I could be wrong about Matt Damon. It could be about him.
Sufjan Stevens has a Wurlitzer Solo on “Mike McDermott.”
If you want a copy of the single, there are still several under $10 on Discogs. I’m pretty sure I got mine as a deal package with a few other 7-inch singles by Van Etten a number of years ago, likely from Jagjaguwar itself — and it ran me a cool $3 a piece.
But, if you aren’t the biggest fan of the B-side, this single probably won’t be worth it. Get the LP instead. You can find it for a super reasonable price on Amazon.