Sharon Van Etten
The track, Seventeen, is available via:
New York, U.S.A.
The album, Remind Me Tomorrow, is available from 18th January. Pre-order here:
THIS is the first review of the year...
PHOTO CREDIT: Ryan Pfluger
where I am stepping things up and dealing with a big artist. I am not suggesting all subsequent reviews will be like this but I have been keen to explore musicians who have more of a name and I can approach from a different angle. Before I come to review Sharon Van Etten’s latest single, I will talk about a few aspects that are relevant to her. I want to talk about artists who make changes between albums and change dynamics; those whose life situations and developments impact their sound; adding something fresh to the mix and the records that will soundtrack the start of the year – I will end by talking about Van Etten and why we need to follow her more. I am reviewing her album, Remind Me Tomorrow, early next week and am keen to get into that. It is a fantastic album that reveals something new every time you listen to it. Are We There (2014) was the last original album from Van Etten and received fantastic praise. I am looking at the reviews and there is so much love for the record. There is darkness and atmosphere in the record but there is so much beauty as well. Now, on her latest album, you get something else. Van Etten embraces the darker edges but we are seeing some more intimate, sensitive and spirited on Remind Me Tomorrow. I do admire artists that can alternate and evolve and, with Van Etten, life and how she perceives the world has been responsible for this change. I will talk about that in a bit but think it is interesting when you get these established artist who do move forward. It would be easy for her to repeat her previous album and stick on that same course. Given the critical reaction and how that album was received, one would forgive her for repeating what happened before. It is good to see a big artist take steps and go in a new direction.
Those familiar with Van Etten’s work will not see something radical and foreign: it is very much the same artist you love but with new additions to the sound. She is very much embracing the present on Remind Me Tomorrow and it urges the listener to explore their deep emotions – tenderness, bravery and a special fortitude. I wonder where she will head from here and how quickly we will get a follow-up. Look back at Van Etten’s catalogue and you can see and hear something fresh with every album. I do feel like many ignore that need for development and alteration. I do get bored with acts who feel it is okay to do the same things every time and not really stretch their imagination. Look at the choices out there and what you can do – why do so many stick with a rigid style and repeat what they have already done? Sharon Van Etten has been in the business for a very long time and can be forgiven for doing things her own way; sticking with a single style and not really venturing far from that. Her latest album does not abandon what we love her for but it reflects changes in her life and different emotions. We get to hear an artist who has written and recorded in a different way and someone taking a leap. That might sound a gamble but, with everything Van Etten does, there is that authority, assuredness and confidence. I love Remind Me Tomorrow and, judging by some reviews already through, people back that up. Van Etten is keen to investigate avenues and ideas not put down on record before and, as new life has come into hers, she has created a record that, although dark in places, is more emotive reflective and embracing. She wants listeners to feel what she feels and immerse themselves in the music. We are seeing the songwriter open a new chapter and, from what I have heard of Remind Me Tomorrow so far, all of these amendments have led to a wonderful revelation.
Let us look at Van Etten and how her life has changed since her last record. She wrote her new album whilst pregnant and a lot of it was written in scraps and between spare moments. Life has definitely been different the last couple of years and Van Etten, when expecting her child, expressed her fears about raising a child in New York. New York is a wonderful city and somewhere you can fall in love with easily. I always associate it with the single life or not having any commitments. We all hear about the danger and crowds in New York; the way it is hard to get around and how uncertain things can be. Throw in the noise and rush and you have a lifestyle that might be best for those without children. That said, Van Etten spoke to Katherine Dieckmann whilst she was in school and she (Dieckmann) has lived there the past thirty years. She and her husband lived across the hall from one another and they made things worked. She assured Van Etten that things would be fine and she would be great. Maybe Van Etten will not be in New York for thirty years – I can see her moving to L.A. at some point – but it seems like she can make it work out fine. I feel these feelings and concerns have affected her album. I think the title of her latest album came from a simple source: clicking on those prompts that say ‘remind me tomorrow’ when running computer updates. She kept clicking on that and, in many ways, that sense of not having time for small things enforced the album. You get a feeling Van Etten was dealing with her pregnancy but she was busy with other stuff. That is not to say the record is rushed or insincere but it was recorded in a different situation to previous offerings. I love the sense of urgency but, given her pregnancy, there is that wondering of the future and some maternal urgings.
PHOTO CREDIT: Ryan Pfluger for @TheCut
I will talk about Van Etten exploring other talents and putting down the guitar later but, when writing and making Remind Me Tomorrow, she worked alongside John Congleton. He suggested that the mood of the album is more upbeat and forward than inward and reflective. Instead of producing a record that looks at fears and the unsure nature of New York and new motherhood; these concerns have been fed through a bright prism and we have an album that has upbeat energy and a great vibe. Van Etten knew she had to work with a producer and approach her music in a different way. She gave Congleton music by Nick Cave and Portishead as guidance. Maybe we do not get as many elements from them as past Van Etten albums but you can hear them in there. What Congleton did was to bring fresh light and idiosyncrasies from Van Etten’s music and take her sound in a new direction. You can hear new light and love in the album. Van Etten has embraced new passions and lines when writing the album and all of this comes through. It is hard to describe the biggest changes through the years but is clear something fresh had to come into the mix. The fact she was expecting a child and realised life would be different could have resulted in a fearful and reflective album. Instead, we can hear excitement and a longing for the future. We do get some sadder and more insular cuts but the abiding mood is of an artist who is refreshed and approaching music differently. I will come to her latest single, Seventeen, in a bit because it is a song that struck my ear the first time I heard it! You can hear Van Etten, on her album, talk to her new son about the world and present something positive for him. She was tearful writing love songs and took a maternal approach to her messages: making her child feel like everything would be fine and putting a positive spin on it all.
PHOTO CREDIT: Jody Rogac for The New York Times
This is humbling to hear and has led to the most emotional, tender and uplifting album she has produced. I think she was getting into a headspace where she relied on the guitar and had writer’s block. She was writing music for Strange Weather and naturally had the guitar with her. It got to the stage where she could not get past a certain sound and was feeling a little constrained. Instead of becoming frustrated, she turned to organs and synths. She was sharing a studio with someone who had these instruments and was inspired. That score took a new life but, when it comes to Remind Me Tomorrow, it gave her a new lease. This is the first time in a while Van Etten has approached a new sonic direction and used different instruments. All of her records are busy but the guitar has been the focal point. It can be hard when you have reached this stage and cannot take a sound any further. Rather than getting frustrated and defeatist; Van Etten found that impetus and has moved her music in a new direction. I love what she is doing at the moment and it seems like she has this new guide and influence. Many other artists can learn from her and I would like to see more try something new and be inspired by something else. So many acts do get into a rut and they seem to churn out the same record every time. This means we get bored and everything is predictable. I feel Van Etten has seen that life is not the same and she will have to look at the world differently. Because of that, the themes on Remind Me Tomorrow are not the same as As We Are; the tones have a new life and we get a more positive and fulsome sound. I shall move on and come to the final topic.
PHOTO CREDIT: Rachel Leah Woliansky
I have already mentioned Dieckmann already. Van Etten composed the score for Strange Weather. The two worked together and, when writing music for Dieckmann’s film, it cleared her mind and influenced what would come on Remind Me Tomorrow. Van Etten also brought her music to the stage for David Lynch’s revival of Twin Peaks. A lot has been happening but I feel the multiple outlets and projects have made her latest record stronger. Van Etten has got the chance to experience different settings and styles; she has composed film music and been given some sage advice but a director. All of this got into the mind and compelled the U.S. songwriter to tackle her music differently. I think Remind Me Tomorrow is an album of 2019. There was a lot of anger around in 2018 and that is understandable enough. We saw a lot of division and stress and artists were keen to make sense of this all. I do feel like there was too much negativity and anger circling around. Music needs to be honest and open but we need it to lift people and elevate their mood. If you are always listening to music that gets you down or angry then it has a big impact on your mental-health. I feel music in 2019 is going to be more positive and have that determination to lift the listener. I am excited to see what comes but feel Remind Me Tomorrow is a sign of what is happening. I do want music to reflect a strength and courage of fortitude. I am a bit tired of hearing so many anxious records and people who are angry. What annoys me is this feeling that anxiety and anger is commercial and what people want to hear. We want to listen to music and feel better; get our mind elevated and our imagination opened. Van Etten is doing this and I think she is leading a new direction for 2019.
IMAGE CREDIT: @WSJMag
There is an anxiety in the album and a feeling or tension but it does not define things. Rather than lean on that fear and uncertainty, we have an artist who is definitely looking ahead and wanting to embrace a new feeling. She has a new child so did not feel it was right to pen an album that is all sadness and fears. Music has the power to change lives and make thing everything sound alright. I want artists to realise this in 2019 and make music that is forward-looking and uplifting. Maybe it is ambitious to think everyone will go this way but I have hopes things will change. The world is getting more tense and divided so music can fill a gap and get us all in a better mood. Van Etten has crafted an album that does open its heart and show some fear but there is light and a sense that everything will be okay. This is good to hear and I hope other artists feel inspired. A lot has happened in her life, as I have mentioned, and all of this comes out in the album. I am excited to see where Van Etten heads now and how the next couple of years will affect her. It is a big time for her and I think her new projects and parental responsibilities will impact the music. I better investigate Seventeen and get down to things. I got a sense of what Remind Me Tomorrow would be like when hearing Van Etten’s single, Comeback Kid. That set the tone and gave us a flavour of how this album would be different. Seventeen carries that sound on and provides a lot of intrigue and interest. I will stop my nattering and get involved with the song – one of the strongest Van Etten has crafted in a while.
The video is worth watching alongside the song because we see Van Etten in New York and her being tracked. It opens with the buzz of the city and her on a staircase outside. It is an intriguing start and, before a note is delivered, you sort of get a real insight into her world and the beating heart of the city. Seventeen is very much beats-led. The song has that taut and tough beat that gets under the skin and drives you forward. The sound has a positive vibe to it and physicality but one hears the heroine talk about people who are all the same. These people are being led astray and knowing something they don’t. Maybe, given the title, it is about age and naivety – perhaps someone thinks they are grown up and they have mastered life. Perhaps there is political naivety and the feeling of what is happening in the U.S. right now. One can interpret the lyrics as a shot against those who profess to have wisdom and one gets a feeling that inexperience and arrogance are at work. It becomes clear that Van Etten is talking about herself and the younger years. Casting her mind back to her teenage times, she used to be halfway up the street and life was very different. I have discussed Van Etten and how motherhood has changed things. She is not who she used to be and life has taken a turn. That is no bad thing at all. Rather than see the past and free times as a better state and place to return to, Van Etten feels more educated and wise now. There is this figure – whether a friend or family – that used to be like her. Maybe the younger heroine was sad and low; they were looking for answers and chasing life. Van Etten acts as the older and more aware narrator who can see herself in someone else.
PHOTO CREDIT: Rachel Leah Woliansky
I did wonder whether it was Van Etten talking to her younger self or she was directing her words at a friend. It is clear past experiences and Van Etten’s teenage years are acting as a guide to this person. In the video, we see Van Etten climbing chain fences and standing to camera. A younger version of her (Rachel Trachtenburg) is looking at camera and the fascination builds. I kept wondering whether it was a message to her younger self. It seems, as Van Etten talks about growing and how life was…it is a message to who she was. Van Etten wishes she could go back and tell her seventeen-year-old self that things will get better and influence her. Maybe the younger Van Etten was impulsive and not sure what to do. She would flitter, to an extent, and was unsure about the world. I like the video and how it cuts between Van Etten looking solemn and stern and the young actor who plays her teenage self – moving in a taxi and looking through the window. May be Van Etten is trying to lose her shadow or forget about who she was. It is hard to determine whether there is regret about who she used to be or whether there are general fears in her head. Seventeen is a busy song that has a big sound and definitely projects energy. The percussion drives the song through and you are hooked by the waves and punch of the track. I was invested from the very start and could hear something fresh from Van Etten. I had heard Comeback Kid before and it seems like the new Van Etten sound is one that gets the blood hot and the mind opened. Even though there is some looking back and uncertainty in the song, you feel like the heroine is looking forward and is in a better place. We all look at our younger self and wonder how far we have come.
PHOTO CREDIT: Dusdin Condren
You can detect some squalling sounds in the back and electronic influence but it is not as guitar-led as past songs. I love the new synths and electronics that seem to offer new burst and fire. Seventeen is quite an intense song but not one that weighs you down. It is inspiring listening to Van Etten cast back and see who she used to be. That mystery starts to grow. When talking to her young self, Van Etten says that there were fears. When she was young, she felt like she would turn into the adult she is now. Whether that means more fearful and less free, I am not sure. We learn that the rebellious Van Etten would skip around and how a lack of care. She would gamble and had a sense of liberty. Maybe growing up means having to give that up and assume some responsibility. Van Etten is a mother and cannot do what she used to do when she was a teenager. Perhaps that feeling is rather sobering and I do wonder whether there is a part of Van Etten that wants to return to that world. She has a great life but that need to cut loose and be free once in a while is in her heart. Life is good now and you cannot remain on the same course all of the time. I love the power of the song and how much emotion Van Etten projects. Her voice is as strong and potent as ever and it seems like the subject matter of Seventeen means a lot. In the video, Van Etten looks across at her young image at a train station and it provokes some emotion. I still wonder whether Van Etten wants a bit of her old life back but you get a real hit when seeing a younger Van Etten with a suitcase look at who she is now – sharing that look and seeing what the future would be. By the end of the song, you wonder whether these words to the past Van Etten have been taken to heart and she will realise how life has changed. I like how there is a mystery and listeners can decide whether Van Etten is excited to be where she is or yearns to be who she was. I think she is in a great space now and wants to let her young self know it will be okay and you will be more grounded.
I have spoken a lot about Sharon Van Etten and how life has changed for her in the past year or so. She has a new son and has been busy with various projects. Situated in New York, I wonder how the setting will direct her next album and whether she will remain put. It seems like the city feeds her and is a perfect environment to test her material, get ideas and collaborate. Keep an eye on her social media channels for tour news and what is coming next. I do hope Van Etten can come to the U.K. and play here very soon. There is a lot of love for her and the demand will be huge. Even though her album, Remind Me Tomorrow, is not out for six days; people have been reviewing it and the feeling is positive. Critics have noted the stylistic shift and the fact there are different tones/subjects inspiring things. I have been following her work for a while and can see these changes. It is good to see Van Etten walking in a different way and it seems like she is excited about the future. Maybe there was some doubt about remaining in New York with a child but it seems like the people are in her blood. I can imagine things being hectic in 2019 and I wonder whether she’ll do any more film work and composing. Maybe there will be collaborations but it is clear her diary is going to be busy! I love Seventeen and it is one of the best singles of the year so far. That might sound like a half-compliment but Van Etten is a masterful songwriter who continues to make incredible music. It is hard to think of an artist like her: one who has not really put a foot wrong and continues to grow. She could have easily repeated the past for her latest L.P. but has come in and done something fresh.
I am thrilled to see her venture into new territory and find new motive. When she hits the road and brings the music to the people, there will be a big reaction. Her live shows are great and she always puts in a huge performance. I will end things now and let you all get on but it is good to see Van Etten with a new album. It has been a busy time and many would have felt fatigued by all of it. Instead of being weighed and affected, we have an album that combines all of these times and filters it into exceptional music. Seventeen is a cracking song and one that I will continue to listen to. These are early days regarding the best albums of 2019 but I think Van Etten has made a big statement. Make sure you listen to Remind Me Tomorrow and follow Van Etten. There is news and developments coming out all of the time and little time to rest. She is looking out to the world and keen to get her album to the people. Maybe the writer’s block and new motherhood would have drained her or led to an album that is uninspired and bad: instead, we have one of her best records and a great new addition to her cannon. Take a listen to the record and drink in every track. I have heard it and can feel this revitalised and repurposed artist looking to the future. One gets some fear and doubts but there is a lot of light, life and positivity to be heard right through Remind Me Tomorrow. I have spun Seventeen a few times and am discovering fresh stuff every time. It is a great song and one that proves Van Etten is one of the finest songwriters around. Make sure you listen to this brilliant song - and her fantastic album (pre-order it) – and start your day…
PHOTO CREDIT: Rachel Leah Woliansky
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PHOTO CREDIT: Dusdin Condren