Sharon Van Etten – Remind Me Tomorrow


Rating: ★★★½ ·

Of all the solo-powerhouses in the indie rock / folk world, few have resonated with me quite as much as the work of Sharon Van Etten. At this point, I’m sure you’re quite familiar with her story: small time broody indie-nobody quietly releases album after album of her own unique brand of raw and powerful music that sits well with fans of The National, Bon Iver, Beirut. Oddly enough, these incredible records like 2014’sAre We There,and 2012’s Trampfailed to push Van Etten into the main fray of the indie world. Cut to 2019: she’s on billboards in NYC, playing Jimmy Kimmel, and pretty much every music publication under the face of the sun is talking about Sharon.

The first thing I noticed at her ACL Festival performance back in October, at which she played a few of the tracks from her new record, is that the guitar was missing. While these tracks–what I came to find out would be the singles for this release–came with a hard bite, the meat of most of the songs were heavy synths played by the inimitable Heather Woods Broderick. We got a bit of a taste of this direction onAre We There,though it was always countered with guitar, be it acoustic or electric. Singles “Comeback Kid,” “Jupiter 4,” and “Seventeen,” as they were released all confirmed this synthy-almost-pop approach, but Van Etten’s sulky vocals kept them grounded in her classic style. On “Comeback Kid,” we have big drums, wailing synths, and Van Etten’s voice as commanding as we’ve ever seen it. “Seventeen” sees her downright screaming, whereas “Jupiter 4” seemingly brings us back to the kind of track we’ve come to expect from Van Etten.

Each of these songs, and the whole record for the most part is a look back on past. This perspective shines brightest in the leaps SVE takes on “Jupiter 4” and “You Shadow.” The former is seeping with desperation and longing to be loved and the insane anticipation of stumbling into something good: “It’s true, that everyone would like to have met / a love so real.” The track a gorgeous love song–though it’s heavy in atmospheric synth, you get a little bit of guitar cutting in, but Van Etten’s vocals take the center. This song is a leap: like most SVE tracks, it’s rooted in this slow pace that seems ominous, but the lyrics are some of the most heart-warming we’ve ever heard from her. She confesses this love continues to move her now: “Turning the wheel on my street / my heart still skips a beat.” This song is a sincere and steadfast confession of being moved by the power of loving someone else, which is a feat to accomplish without sounding corny or trite.

“You Shadow” comes later on and takes the approach of a sing-song-y taunt you’d expect to hear in an argument between teenagers; it’s actually probably the most ‘pop’ track we’ve ever heard from SVE and it’s infectious. Though simple, the song’s melody gets wedged in to your head. The crunchy sounds are juxtaposed well by lighter, bouncy keys. The whole number has this laid back groove to it, but the casualness of the beat and the smooth delivery from Van Etten is contrasted highly in the bridge, where we get the sweeping power vocals once more. It’s a weird combination, but the result doubles down on the strength of the words Van Etten jeers: “You ain’t nothing / You never won.” One moment she’s telling us a story from the perspective of someone emotionally removed, bitter. Next in the bridge, she’s right back in the moment, spilling with emotions and raw anger.

SVE made a lot of bold sonic changes onRemind Me Tomorrow and the two tracks I described were examples of these choices paying off in a big way, but the rest of the album doesn’t always offer that same kind of payoff. I find myself not quite connecting with every song as I’d like to, and as I have in the past. Don’t get me wrong, in the end,Remind MeTomorrowis a good record, but it pales in comparison to her past two albums both in songwriting strength, and in musicality. Sharon Van Etten is immensely talented and well-deserving of the moment she’s having, but this record feels less vulnerable, which is what I’ve always found to be a ridiculously compelling factor (if not the most compelling factor) of her music. Oddly enough, though the sound is bigger than she’s ever done before, Van Etten is emotionally guarded behind those buzzing synths.

Perhaps with revisited listening the guard will come down, Remind Me (to listen again) Tomorrow.

 

 

 

Sharon Van Etten – Are We There

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Rating: ★★★★½

Though Sharon Van Etten is on her fourth full-length debut, it wasn’t really until 2012’s release of Tramp that shot her dramatic and elegant sound into the limelight of the indie rock world. However, Tramp displayed a trip in a semi-folk rock direction, with some stand out tracks like “Magic Chords” and “Serpents” that put some rock-n-roll punch behind the already powerful lyrics of Etten. This time around Are We There seems to step back from this rockier style and lets the poignancies of the lyrics take center stage.

Though Are We There is far from devoid of the subtle soft rock that Sharon Van Etten and company always seem to bring to the table. Take “Your Love is Killing Me,” for example, as it is a perfect example of just what this songwriter is all about. The song opens with the delicacy you’ve been familiarized with, but slowly builds to this complex and arching aching beauty of a song. Some dark and violent imagery catches your ear as Sharon sings “break my legs so I won’t walk to you/cut my tongue so I can’t talk to you.” None of this, not even for a second, though vastly dramatic when removed from its context comes across as melodramatic or insincere. Rather, its musical accompaniment of ragtime-y piano, slow rolling drums, and distantly angled guitars generate a raw realness that is impossible to ignore. It pulls at your emotions and translates the emotional pain that is described in the song as it builds to its slow, orchestral climax.

While I highlight some tracks in this review, you should know that the worth of this release isn’t simply centered on these tracks, but rather all of the tracks; they intermingle and play upon each other without becoming redundant or running together. The distinction comes from the addition or subtraction of instruments while the songwriting runs deeply through the whole thing. I could go on about the beauty of each song, but you should discover that for yourselves.

The album closes with the beautiful and honest “Every Time the Sun Comes Up—” a single that, if you’ve been paying attention, should have already heard, but by no means does this attract from its beauty. It’s not as heavy as the other tracks, but on the catchy side and you’ll want to sing along with the bluesy vocals. The little bit of playful audio left in the mix at the very end of the Are We There seals the record with a personal kiss of lightness; a touch of a reminder that though Sharon Van Etten writes and records pretty somber tunes, she isn’t lost in the darkness. All in all the album comes across as the most intimate and impassioned record from this artist thus far, so go get lost in the sadness for a little while.

 

Fun x 3 Fest Preview: Sharon Van Etten

This is a troubling preview…do I swoon over the gorgeous Sharon Van Etten because of her music of her looks?  Can I do both?  I think I’ll do both.  It’s not enough that Sharon can play, and play incredibly well, but I can attest to her mesmerizing performances.  When I last caught her, her voice just took ahold of me, and refused to let go.  It’s not what one would describe as a “pretty” voice, which makes me appreciate what she’s doing all the more; she’s belting out her soul, not just trying to be adored.  Her recent album, Tramp, won over a lot of new fans, atop of accolades from many.  It’s moody and affecting, two things that translate to a good live performance by any artist, especially one the boys can swoon over.  Seeing Sharon on the stage is going to be one of my highlights of Fun Fun Fun Fest, but now that I think about it, it’s more for her incredible set of songs than the looks. But hey, those don’t hurt. 

[audio:http://austintownhall.com/wp-content/uploads/2011/11/Sharon_Van_Etten_-_Serpents.mp3]

Download: Sharon Van Etten – Serpents [MP3]

Sharon plays Friday, November 2nd at 3:25 on the Orange Stage.

Sharon Van Etten – Tramp

Rating: ★★★★ ·

“We’re alright, we’re alright” sweeping over a slow moving beat and creeping along with wailing guitars screams as the farthest thing from being actually alright. Accompanied by Zach Condon of Beirut, “We Are Fine,” the eighth track on Tramp comes across as a bold statement of purpose for this album and Sharon Van Etten’s style itself—pushing through while exploring the emotional turmoil that perhaps plagues this songstress and perhaps plagues us all at some point or another. Tramp is yet another staple of this exploration for Van Etten, whose raspy voice is power, often made grim by the words that are carried by it, and haunting in itself.

The album begins at “Warsaw,” which is by far the most jangly/garage rock number on this release. Squalling guitar brings you in at its crawling pace, and then Van Etten’s voice makes its first appearance. Juxtaposed against the raw instruments, the vocals appear at their sweetest here and it isn’t until the next song that you can really grasp the true force behind them. Second up is “Give Out,” on which the focus is transferred to the voice that sails above the guitar and minimalist percussion, and is yet tethered to the music by its deep resonant force. When Van Etten belts “you’re the reason why I’ll move to the city,” she reaches a sinisterly arching, skin crawling tone that oozes strength amidst destruction.

After this powerful track, “Serpents,” the lead single from Tramp gets its bitter say in its own chilling notes. More prominent percussion and borderline angry vocals command this song, driving it into corners and then letting it all go. Here is where essentially my only qualm with this record can be found: song placement. The first three songs are all brilliant and supremely gripping in their strength and boldness, and then the fourth song immediately drops from outward reflection to inward contemplation. All of the caustic and edginess is lost and Van Etten turns to a softer, more acoustic sound, which carries through the middle portion of the album and may have some differing reactions by listeners. Some may find this breakdown alluring in its real nature, and others may find it weak.

She does not end on a meek note, however, and brings back the power on songs aforementioned like “We Are Fine,” that stretch the vocals to boil and “Magic Chords,” which strikes the same fancy as the first few tracks on Tramp. It is a devastatingly beautiful number, and the same can be said for the whole album. You are transfigured by the sorrow found in Van Etten’s voice, and held down by its overwhelming strength.

[audio:http://austintownhall.com/wp-content/uploads/2011/11/Sharon_Van_Etten_-_Serpents.mp3]

Download:Sharon Van Etten – Serpents [MP3]

New Music from Sharon Van Etten

I know Turkey Day is drawing near, but there’s still some great music leaking out today, so I’m going to try and stay on top of it.  This new track from Sharon Van Etten has me really excited, and not just because it features members of The National, Walkmen and Wye Oak; it’s because I’ve got a bit of a crush on Sharon…and her music too! The songstress has a new album coming out titled Tramp, which will be released on Jagjaguwar on February 7th.  This song’s got a nice little cascading guitar line cutting through the rhythm guitar, and Van Etten’s voice sounds every bit as beautiful as I remember it in the live setting.  This is shaping up to be a good 2012 already.

[audio:http://austintownhall.com/wp-content/uploads/2011/11/Sharon_Van_Etten_-_Serpents.mp3]

Download: Sharon Van Etten – Serpents [MP3]