Release Date: May 27, 2014
Record label: Jagjaguwar
Genre(s): Pop/Rock, Alternative/Indie Rock
Sharon Van Etten is one of the finest singer/songwriters of our time, with a completely realized sound - sombre but uplifting, minimal yet epic - and a darkly emotive voice completely her own. The Brooklyn musician exhales her lyrics as if she's carrying the heaviest of loads and is about to collapse under the weight of it. Of her four albums, she's never released a stinker, but there was a sense of stasis to 2012's Tramp.
In the last song on her new album, Sharon Van Etten sings, “People say I’m a one-hit wonder, but what happens when I have two?” It’s only a matter of time until we find out. Van Etten’s latest is a masterpiece, an album of extraordinary depth and sophistication that finds the New York singer and songwriter in full command of her considerable talent. Are We There is the first of her four LPs that Van Etten produced herself, and her clarity of vision is breathtaking.
Head here to submit your own review of this album. It was hard not to be completely enamoured with Sharon Van Etten's 2012 breakthrough album, Tramp. Here was a singer who sang with a fiery sadness and unflinching honesty, using her haunting voice to exorcise her emotional demons, desperately trying to become a better person. Tramp was a devastating reflection on personal anguish and the failure connect to those you supposedly love.
Some would argue that most albums, by default, are 'heartbreak' or 'break-up' records. The bitter tang of a relationship’s end, the cruel stomach-twist of the just-discovered betrayal, the fading memory of a once blooming love now withered brings to the fore the songwriter’s skills, focusing talent, redoubling intensity as they deal with personal disaster through song. The lost love song, even more so than the love song, is the most valuable hard currency of recorded music.
When someone tells you that time gives new perspective, it usually doesn’t help whatever you are going through at that moment. People will say that something is too fresh to talk about, that they need time for their wounds to heal, but even if they are comfortable with their past, time gives you the space to approach events and emotions with more clarity and knowledge of how the narrative proceeds. The journey from our past to our future is when life happens.
The title of Sharon Van Etten’s fourth record is missing a critical punctuation mark on purpose. Are We There is the sound of an iterant career musician in the middle of an emotionally trying period. Thankfully, Van Etten’s introspective rock tunes are still sifted through the ’70s singer-songwriter roots of previous recordings.
From the first notes of her 2009 debut, Because I Was in Love, New Jersey native Sharon Van Etten wrote with seeming effortlessness about the depravations of romance and the contortions of a heart either committed or broken, displaying a penchant for wrenching turns of phrase laden with dire implications. When she sang, “The moral of the story is don't lie to me again,” on “Consolation Prize”, it was the “again” that stuck in your gut, suggesting a pattern of aggression and acquiescence that would not necessarily end with the song. Her voice toggled fluidly between brave and broken, dogged and defiant—often within the same line.
After a slow-burning start to her career, 2012’s Tramp saw Brooklyn-based Sharon Van Etten achieving the kind of critical and commercial success that allows an artist to dictate their next move. Are We There marks a break from Van Etten’s previous producer, The National’s Aaron Dessner, to self-produce a remarkably intimate and intelligent collection of material. These sophisticated, yearning songs call to mind the likes of Mary Margaret O’Hara’s Miss America, the sultrier side of Jeff Buckley’s My Sweetheart The Drunk and Rickie Lee Jones’ Pirates.
Of all the things I enjoyed about Sharon Van Etten’s last album, Tramp, I found myself most excited about what wasn’t there. Specifically, I was most taken with how impressive the album was without necessarily being her definitive statement. There was room to grow on Tramp and there were indications of the album wasn’t the culmination of her journey, but just another stop along the way.
Sharon Van Etten’s fourth album represents a change in tack for the New Jersey singer. Her first three albums, starting with 2009’s ‘Because I Was In Love’, have shown off her gift for exploring personal struggles in a revelatory way, documenting vulnerable moments with an engrossing intimacy. To date, her stories have been told in hindsight, pulling the listener in as an imaginary confidante.
Brooklyn singer/songwriter Sharon Van Etten's transfixing voice and often heart-wrenching songs come through in an odd mixture of pain and flourishing inspiration on the best moments of her fourth album, Are We There. The album, produced by Van Etten herself with some help from New York-based producer Stewart Lerman (Elvis Costello, Sophie B. Hawkins), follows her 2012 outing Tramp and trades up on some of the crushed indie templates of that album for new stylistic territory.
You write about what you know. For Sharon Van Etten, that always seemed to be related to pain and heartache and loss. However, keeping up that level of tragedy was always going to be a) tiring and b) actually pretty difficult, unless you’re quite firmly in to self-sabotage.It’s the same problem suffered by bands who write debuts about wanting to make it big to escape the mundanity of their current existence.
Sharon Van Etten’s musical output is riveting – by turns completely inviting and utterly appalling. Her first record, Because I Was In Love, was a stunning album – it showcased a blossoming songwriter writing from to the hearts of her audience with a level of aplomb veterans double her age couldn’t even hope to achieve. Seven-track-long, ironically-titled Epic followed much in the same vein, yet it developed a luxurious, lavish – and undoubtedly mature – vibe (especially on tracks like Love More and Peace Signs) that made anticipation for 2012’s Tramp almost unbearable.
Anguish anchors Sharon Van Etten's music; it's a focal point that has made for a ravishing core on her past three albums, and it transforms her fourth outing, too. On Are We There, Van Etten's guitars are largely replaced with organs and pianos. Instrumentally and personally, Van Etten is transitioning — into what, even she doesn't know yet, but her dissection of her current surroundings makes for a marvellous journey.
There's a great clip on YouTube of singer-songwriter Sharon Van Etten playing "People Ain't No Good," by Nick Cave, whom she toured with last year. It's a telling footnote to her magnificent fourth LP, which grows her trademark examinations of romantic decay to cathedral-like scale. Like Cave, her darkness contains multitudes. The centerpiece comes early: "Your Love Is Killing Me" is a six-minute dirge opening with funereal organ and a laundry list of violent fantasies that build to guitar crescendos.
On Sharon Van Etten's latest, we find the 33-year old Brooklynite grappling even further with the complexities and rewards of love. It's a skill predicated on an articulate presentation of the emotionally wrought—one that's been gradually developed across three LPs and a career spanning upwards of a decade. .
Part of Brooklyn singer-songwriter Sharon Van Etten's appeal, as so many critics have pointed out, lies in the confessional parity between her lyrics and her life, including implied physical abuse. “He can break me with one hand,” Van Etten sings in calm falsetto on her new album, Are We There. Later in the album, on “Our Love,” she admits, “I see your backhand again.” But most of her lasting artistic strength stems not from sensationalism, but from the singularity of her voice and the plangent quality of her songwriting, both devoid of pretense—tragedian, diva, or otherwise.
There are albums which explore relationships, and then there’s Sharon Van Etten’s Are We There,which wallows in relationships, exults in them, curses them, clings to them, and generally dissects themand the two people involved in them, usually Van Etten as a first-person narrator and the guy she’s addressing, until there are no secrets left to reveal. At least until the pair wakes up the next morning and find out they’ve learned nothing. Van Etten’s steadily ascendant career will likely continue to soar behind Are We There.
The successor to Tramp – Sharon Van Etten's tremendous breakout album of 2012 – takes a big step sideways from the seething indie rock that made Van Etten's name. The emotional candour is still in generous supply on tracks such as Taking Chances (Your Love Is Killing Me is particularly brutal), but these 11 songs cleave closer to the singer-songwriter's art than the literate rock of Tramp. Those happy to go with Van Etten will be rewarded by swooping pop noir, groaning organs and a sax solo, plus considerable hard-won wisdom.
The lyrics on Sharon Van Etten's fourth album don't always make for easy listening. "He can break me, with one hand," she falsettos during one chorus, whereas another moment has her recoiling: "I see your backhand again." Your Love Is Killing Me, meanwhile, features broken legs, cut tongues and burned skin. As with her 2012 breakthrough album Tramp, these revelations feel intimate and shocking, and gain further power when Van Etten appears to fall back under her lover's spell.
opinion byBRENDAN FRANK On the profoundly sad Are We There, Sharon Van Etten plunges into the shadowy inner workings of her psyche without recourse. Her 2012 breakthrough Tramp is practically understated by comparison, the heartrending sentimentality of that record crumpling underneath outright agony. A poignant tour-de-force, the message of Are We There is urgent, its delivery selfless.
Are We There, the new album from Sharon Van Etten, is best appreciated in bits and pieces. To listen to the whole thing is to drown in its relentless focus on a world of sorrow, misery, and punishment. Even “Every Time The Sun Comes Up,” the album’s final track and Van Etten’s version of a singalong good-time song, is balanced on Van Etten and a chorus intoning, “Every time the sun comes up, I’m in trouble” over and over along a melodic line that largely doesn’t vary from the mean.
Sharon Van Etten’s fourth studio album Are We There has an list of featured guests, and it serves as good context to the Brooklynite’s milieu and reputation: Mackenzie Scott of Torres; Shearwater’s Jonathan Meiburg; Jana Hunter of Lower Dens fame; the wonderful Peter Broderick. Hopes for the record have been high - does it represents a new milestone or just a check point on the young singer-songwriter’s already ambitious expedition? Either way, the most obvious constant to Van Etten is her voice; slightly raspy, intimate, masterful (thanks to a childhood full of choirs and classical training) and rich with the trappings of tradition. She wields it with absolute precision to guide harmonies around her typically sparse instrumentation and it’s a consistent, variegated delight throughout the album.
Sharon Van Etten — Are We There (Jagjaguwar)Sharon Van Etten’s successes are as hard to delineate as they are easy to appreciate. She’s stepped quietly towards the center of indie rock, indie more by association than by any particular style or quirk. Her voice has the clarity of a 1960s coffeehouse singer, just gritty enough to sit comfortably between electric instruments, dark but not a downer.
Brooklyn-based singer-songwriter Sharon Van Etten has been crafting therapeutic folk-pop for around five years now, though usually with the aid of various producers. Written and recorded herself, Are We There, her fourth full-length, is a Sharon Van Etten record through-and-through. She took complete ownership of the album right down to photographing the cover image and handwriting the liner notes.
For a wallow in obsessive love, it’s hard to top “Your Love Is Killing Me” on Sharon Van Etten’s fourth album, “Are We There” (Jagjaguwar). Its opening drumbeat echoes from deep down or far away; organ chords suggest hymnlike devotion, and a lone guitar note only illuminates the ….
Tramp, Sharon Van Etten's 2012 breakthrough, came on like a tightly coiled spring; a flurry of clattering, recriminatory songs that dealt in bitterness and resentment. Not long into the record, though, something came loose, and the tension so evident in its opening salvo was replaced by something big and billowing, typified by the likes of 'Leonard' or 'All I Can': cavernous indie-rock stirrers that she carried with grace and style. It's in this kind of spirit that its follow-up finds Van Etten from the get-go.
Sharon Van Etten Are We There (Jagjaguwar) "People say I'm a one-hit wonder, but what happens when I have two?" That's the mic drop sealing Sharon Van Etten's Are We There. Found on closer "Every Time the Sun Comes Up," the line thumbs its nose at the music industry, but the magnitude of the Brooklynite's fourth album may force her to revisit that question. Working alongside the National's Aaron Dessner, 2012 stunner Tramp broke from the subtlety of her 2009 debut to sometimes dizzying effect.