sat 28/01/2023

CD: Sharon Van Etten - Are We There | reviews, news & interviews

CD: Sharon Van Etten - Are We There

CD: Sharon Van Etten - Are We There

Self-produced fourth album is American songwriter's finest hour

Listen to it on headphones: Sharon Van Etten's intimate, honest 'Are We There'

The first thing you’ll notice about Sharon Van Etten’s Are We There is how crystal-clear and clean it sounds. “Afraid of Nothing”, the album’s opening track, fizzes with hope and expectation like the long tail of a firework from its giddy opening lines: “you told me the day that you showed me your face we’d be in trouble for a long time - I can’t wait”.

Listen to it on headphones, though, and the component parts of that giddiness will stun you: the interplay between simple piano chords and guitar; the soaring strings that fill the chorus line with anticipation; the booming bass drum you can feel in the pit of your stomach.

The second thing you’ll notice about Are We There is how little time that cleanness stays around.

For her fourth album - a direct, unflinching portrait of a decade-long relationship that ultimately crumbled as her songwriting career blossomed - Van Etten chose to take production duties into her own hands. The result is something so intimate, and so honest, that it at once feels rude to listen to but at the same time impossible to tear yourself away from. The fuzziness and dirty groove of “Taking Chances”; the echoing drums that open “Your Love Is Killing Me”; the mournful Hammond organ that punctuates “Break Me”: these could all be devices to distract from Van Etten’s open, visceral lyrics. “I see your backhand again, I’m a sinner, I have sinned”, delivered with a dispassion and distance that somehow makes them even more painful to hear. “Maybe something will change…” Van Etten muses towards the album’s close, but given that the song itself is called “Nothing Will Change” it seems unlikely.

Van Etten’s voice can be many things - a soft-spoken spell, a jaw-dropping wail - but here, it’s when she’s at her most matter-of-fact that she kills it. The bridge of “Your Love Is Killing Me” is a shopping list of hopefully metaphorical abuse, sung with one eye soberly on the horizon while an orchestra swell struggles to contain the drama. Closing track “Every Time the Sun Comes Up” is languid, stream-of-consciousness performance poetry; just light enough to return the listener to the world.

Overleaf: watch the "Every Time The Sun Comes Up" video


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