The Lady of 2012. Sharon Van Etten, Tramp.

It is once more that time of the season for lists. Lists detailing year-defining albums; scribbles frantically scrawled telling of the prerequisite purchasing of odd bits and bobs for dearly beloveds: interminable lists to end all lists, and with that the year. It'd perhaps not be such an atrocity were such unnecessary compilations of sorts scratched out altogether, yet quite inevitably they continue to come like a forceful armada of full stops and fine lines to be drawn under the year that most certainly still is. I've already read several.

Though the latter-day phenomenon that is the end of year list is, with regard to full-length records, one that carries intrigue to the listener – from the casual, to the compulsive – whilst simultaneously celebrating those artists to have made the year a more memorable one in producing a commendable work still fresh in memory come a brisk November night when these things are scrupulously collated. Though this particular time of the season has become synonymous with the season of the reissue, as labels attempt to sweep away the fusty cobwebs from the minds of they that so diligently deliberate and compile. There's a degree of contemptible disregard for those more avid fanatics, as they're sold something they in effect already own – sprinkled as it may now be with a cheap patina of sleeve artwork sparkle and a bonus dud or two. This week witnesses the rerelease of Born To Die, and The Paradise Edition is one such example of an almost Machiavellian endeavour on behalf of Polydor. I'm not sure about you, but a weak bogus disc that can be boiled down in essence to the ribald smut of Del Rey shushing: "My pussy tastes like Pepsi Cola" is something I can do without having stuffed down my stocking. Lord knows 2012 has already had enough Lana stuffed down its every orifice at any rate, so this just feels like the further flogging of a horse that was already a little limp to begin with; a strike whilst the iron's lukewarm subterfuge. Though it's not this one, but a release that, quite deplorably, we neglected to assess at the first time of asking that we'll today be madly rhapsodising over.

Sharon Van Etten released Tramp back in February, when the weather was as harsh as it ought to be now, if not more so. Then, it was met with an inconstant ripple of fanfare though where this happened to parp up, it also happened to be most profuse. Reviews centred around the New Joisey songbird's miserable disconnection from the most odious of all disparaging oafs who, alas, Van Etten was once amorously associated with. She had since embarked upon voluntary vagrancy, shacking up on the sofas of those more amenable acquaintances, impishly slipping The National's Aaron Dessner bare-bone demos, and gigging the fuck outta New York. Everywhere; anywhere.

Now, well, you'll most likely be fairly well versed in what happened next. A 7.9 on Pitchfork was the following morning followed up with a 9/10 on Drowned in Sound and within a month, having tramped across Europe she would find herself making her once wretched, yet now merry way to the UK. London's Cargo sold out, whilst Rough Trade got rammed to the rafters and exposed industrial piping. For an artist of Van Etten's ilk – an artist committed to the overtly cathartic and entwined almost exclusively with a startlingly lugubrious strand of melancholy – that so many hearts opened right up to her as may a burgeoning bud come springtime proved quite astonishing. There was no compromise; no external creative dilution. Just a record brimming with superlatives.

I recently read of Van Etten being described by Jagjaguwar honcho Darius Van Arman as having that once-in-a-generation voice – the prong of her tripartite attack also comprising her sporadically syncopated strumming and open-to-every-element songwriting that she has always believed to be the strongest. And he who gave Tramp a home couldn't have put it better: warming and reliably bright throughout the gelid winter months, its infrequent rasp brought some bite to what was an otherwise somewhat toothless, nondescript summer. Hers is a voice for all seasons, and it's in no small part due to this that Tramp has already proven a record relevant to the year's every moment.

The defiant stomp to opener Warsaw epitomised the boundless optimism spring entails; Ask with its cascading words of cigarette ash and collapsing worlds may be perceived as an autumnal smoulder; Serpents the hostile sting of a year newly born, whilst All I Can, Van Etten's bespoke curtain call, lucidly resonates with shivering harmonies as though secular winter hymnal. Yet in releasing all the "painful stuff" of which Tramp is composed, and in focussing with unerring concentration on the contrasting human emotions love may engender there would have always been the possibility of Van Etten's stanzas ambling off into clich├ęd territories. Of either the excessively mawkish when found in affection, or of fork-tongued seethe in disillusion. That she rarely strays into either realm ought only see her mildly blemished great virtues further extolled. One such moment occurs when she spits vitriol and hisses during Serpents: "You enjoy suckin' on dreams/ So I will fall asleep with someone other than you" though despite sneering of sharing an intimacy with an ambiguous other – a mark of puerility in many, perhaps – she instead reverts to vulnerability. Sexually, it's darn vague as Van Etten alternatively seeks protection; tranquility; tenderness. Security, almost, and a sense of security has since been attained.

When not vagabonding this wide world, she's now shacked up "kinda out in the suburbs" of Brooklyn though it's with her boyfriend, in his pad, that she spends the majority of her downtime while uptown. Though it'll be interesting to witness where this radical shift in relationship status may take her songwriting. It transported longterm admirer Justin Vernon to Wembley Arena and beyond, whilst it took Patrick Wolf to the furthest reaches of irrelevance. The artist's pain for the listener's pleasure is, arguably, paramount within the context of Tramp as a record, though one senses that Van Etten's lovelorn aches and pangs are inextricable from her art. Long before this year she's been stirring giddy barbs and with these striking nameless ne'er-do-wells to have done her wrong. Take Epic's Don't Do It, on which she insistently, if somewhat emotionlessly jeers: "Look me in the eyes/ Say you can't do it." There's an intensity to the minor key brood beyond her opaque vocals that makes out as though her piercing gaze has been transmogrified into song and transmitted with an acerbic determination. She's staring down your ears, and believe you me they're quivering compelled.

This time last year, it was her finest recording. This time this year, however, she has the widescreen, doe-eyed belle that is Give Out upon which she may call. "It's not because I always look down/ It might be I always look out" she soothes with cautionary prowess. And arguably, it's the one song that has exponentially enhanced Van Etten's performance: where she was once a fringed faceless transfixed by her laces, she may these days shield her reticence and aversion to the stage beyond its monolithic grandiosity. It builds slowly, constructed of esteemed Americana (yet more reaping of Young's Harvest) and curled in accordance with the snarl of Polly Jean Harvey. Peej may now model a dismal, upturned grin but Sharon here perpetuates the adamant grit of Rid of Me, or Dry. In certain respects, Dress could be dolled up as a prototypal Give Out: whimsical and rampant. "You're the reason why I'll move to the city/ Or why I'll need to leave" she creaks as crystalline Fenders echo and hound her helpless yelp like a pack of Alsatians thronging one of Manhattan's umpteen Chihuahuas. But if her lyrics may tell of surrender, her voice stands resolute; a paragon of steadfast quality.

It's a quality you can't put a price on, though if you'd be interested in hearing original demos of the album's every track then the bonus CD out this week can be acquired on its own here if you, like me, already have a copy of Tramp beside both needle and laser. It also contains the quite majestic Tell Me which (not that I've much concept of how dollars convert these days) is doubtless worth seven bucks in itself.

Irregardless, the newfangled (and soon surely to be forgotten) ersatz princess of woefully artificial pop hasn't presided over my year, just as I shan't ever indulge in The Paradise Edition. Instead, it has been the rather more lowly Tramp that tops my everything as Sharon Van Etten has, in my misty and a little rose-tinged peepers, governed 2012 supreme.

Thank you, Sharon.