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Album Review: We've Been Going About This All Wrong by Sharon Van Etten
Excellent, Based on 6 Critics
Sputnikmusic - 82 Based on rating 4.1/5
I wanna be myself
The word catharsis is transformed - no, given entirely new meaning, redefined - in the work of Sharon Van Etten. Her intuitive understanding of emotional and sonic dynamics, whether it's a produced pop song or a stark acoustic ballad, is matched only by her towering cathedral of a voice and knack for curating and sequencing capital-a Albums. One of the most consistent yet surprising artists of her generation, Van Etten's music is packaged with a unique feeling of wanderlust which ensures she never makes the same album twice.
Sharon Van Etten returns with her follow-up to 2019's Remind Me Tomorrow. Made during the pandemic in her home studio in her new hometown of Los Angeles (following many years of being based in New York), it feels like her most personal statement in quite some time, perhaps even echoing back to her early CD-R releases and sparse, claustrophobic, deeply uncomfortable uneasy listening, folk-inflected debut LP, Because I Was in Love, from all the way back in 2009. Of course, she's a completely different artist now, much more in command of her massive gifts, vocally, lyrically, and in bringing out long-bubbling emotions to the surface.
On her sixth full-length LP, Sharon Van Etten starts down the path of rebuilding her life after a period of flux. Van Etten, who produced the album in her home studio in Los Angeles, pleas with clarity of purpose. But she surrounds those vigorous pleas, mostly the anxiety of being pandemic-stricken, with vaguely stated uncertainties she can't control.
One of America’s finest songwriters designs a collection of songs to be listened to all at once For her sixth album, it seems like Sharon Van Etten has decided to skip the usual circus associated with new releases. We’ve Been Going About This All Wrong is released with no real fanfare, no advance tracks (the two songs she released last year, Porta and Used To It, do not feature here), and she’s been talking it up as a collection of songs that “are designed to be listened to in order, all at once, so that a much larger story of hope, loss, longing and resilience can be told”. Maybe, in the streaming age, we really have been going about this all wrong.
Some people become rock stars overnight. There's a new voice, a new idea (or a stylishly recycled old idea), some effortless take on cool that catapults a nobody to the hallowed realm of somebody as if by magic. For Sharon Van Etten, that process of becoming has been more protracted -- not the sudden flash-point brilliance of a shooting star but the steady, deepening expansion of a red giant.
Three years ago, with Remind Me Tomorrow, she caught everyone off-guard by veering into a sound built on synths, piano and digital drum tracks, ditching the guitar and the indie folk, which up until then had been the vessel through which she deployed the soul-baring chronicles of a pained, anguished heart that has made her so revered among peers and fans alike. We've Been Going About This All Wrong is Van Etten's most here-in-the-now record she's made; the backdrop for the home-recorded album was the beginning and height of the pandemic, and all the doubts and numbness and anxieties it brought with it, coupled with the often-crippling insecurities that come with being a parent. On the album, the dark, haunting sound and intimate atmosphere of her early work and the muscular '80s inspired synth-pop of Remind Me Tomorrow sit side by side.