After a decade in the business, New Jersey singer-songwriter, ‘Sharon Van Etten’, returns with her first record since 2014 with the anthemic ‘Remind Me Tomorrow’. Once a cult-folk figure, this record sees Sharon evolve into an iconic star sitting on the edge of electronic rock. This is an accomplished songwriter at the peak of her powers as she flexes her artistic muscles to push her own boundaries resulting in her best album to date.
Since her debut back in 2009, Van Etten’s discography has been crammed with quality releases. Her sound has typically sat at the folk-rock end of the spectrum with an atmospheric feeling built upon slow-mid tempo pacing. This has an alluring quality driven by her smouldering & mature vocals as well as the reflective & interpersonal nature of her lyrics.
It has been 5 long years since her last release, ‘I Don’t Want to Let You Down’, & if one thing was for sure, she was never going to be one to rest on her laurels. During this time, she successfully branched into acting (in the Netflix series ‘The OA’ & David Lynch’s ‘Twin Peaks’), studied for a degree in Psychology & became a mother. Therefore, it is rather unsurprising that her return to music does not see her style left alone. Instead it has evolved & been carefully crafted with the guitar being locked away & replaced by synths whilst John Congleton (previously having worked with the likes of Lana Del Ray, Angel Olson & St Vincent) is a new recruit on the dials.
This change in path is immediately evident on the brilliant lead singles ‘Comeback Kid’ & ‘Seventeen’. On the former, her previous minimalistic approach has been displaced by a more energetic & dramatic sound. This has a gothic feeling to it due to the thunderous drums, bold lyrics & terrific vocals. Meanwhile ‘Seventeen’, the best moment on the album, is a tremendous piece of piano rock with a warbling synth weaving through the track at various points. Van Etten’s vocals are absolutely outstanding here filled with despair particularly at the gut wrenching breakdown as she sings at full strength “I know that you’re gonna be / You’ll crumple it up just to see / Afraid that you’ll be just like me!”. It is the most animated & indeed the best she has ever sounded.
Despite the different musical landscape, the twists & turns of love remain her core songwriting subject. This is notable throughout the record like on the haunting ‘Jupiter 4’ which speaks of the fragility & yearning nature of love against a backdrop formed by a heavy synthesiser & howls. Elsewhere there is ‘Malibu’ which is a more straightforward piano led ballad about a carefree romance: “we held hands as we passed the truck / just a couple of dudes who don’t give a fuck”. However unlike ‘Jupiter 4’ which I found compelling, ‘Malibu’ is just too clean cut for my liking. For me, it is these more conventional moments which resonate poorest on the record especially the sparse ‘I Told You Everything’ which opens up the album & would have served better as a shorter intro in my opinion.
However luckily there are only a few of these more straight edge efforts on the tracklisting. Generally the production is colourful & vibrant whilst the instrumentation tends to be varied & engrossing. Second track, ‘No One’s Easy To Love’, is fantastic with a thumping beat & soaring chorus as piano keys twinkle behind Van Etten’s voice. Her voice is sultry & smooth on the verses before twisting & howling powerfully on the chorus. This is just another example where she excels as a vocalist. Other tracks which stand out include ‘You Shadow’ which shines with its relaxed drum beat & stabby distorted beats & ‘Memorial Day’ which is a hazy & enchanting ride (similar in style to ‘Portishead’ or even one of the more sombre ‘Moby’ tracks).
All throughout this record, the textures are thick & lush creating a largely dark & gloomy album with splinters of hope in the form of Van Etten’s powerful & versatile vocals. The sheer amount of variation does mean it isn’t the most coherent listen but the standout moments do come where the creative shackles have been completely torn off. There is no doubt that during her musical absence, Sharon Van Etten, has broadened her horizons personally & this has seen her morph & expand her creativity to twist her trademark sound. As a result, Remind Me Tomorrow is her most encapsulating & boldest record yet.
Top Track: Seventeen
Top Lyric: I know what you’re gonna be / I know that you’re gonna be / You’ll crumple it up just to see / Afraid that you’ll be just like me!
Review by Scott Bingham (Follow him on Twitter at @in_the_riot)
Remind Me Tomorrow was released on Jagjaguwar on January 18th & is available at all good record stores & on Spotify.
You can catch Sharon Van Etten on tour in the UK & Ireland at the end of March as part of her worldwide tour:
MAR 21 – The Mill – Birmingham
MAR 22 – Albert Hall- Manchester
MAR 23 – Vicar Street- Dublin
MAR 24 – St. Luke’s – Glasgow
MAR 26 – Roundhouse – London
MAR 27 – SWX – Bristol
And you can keep up to date with future announcements here: https://www.sharonvanetten.com/tour/
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