We haven’t seen her since her third album Tramp in 2012, but Sharon Van Etten is back with her stunning new record Are We There. The Brooklyn-based singer-songwriter is famed for her intimate vocals and poignant lyricism, which won her unmatchable praise in Tramp, and propelled her break-through into the industry. The Sunday Times labelled the songstress’ third LP ‘one of the first indisputable masterpieces of 2012’; Are We There will undoubtedly follow this precedent.
Van Etten’s work captures a beautiful vulnerability, a refreshingly honest self-exposure which manages to stray from the edges of self-pity. Her opening track ‘Afraid of Nothing’ captures this sentiment in one: Etten lays bare her heart in a free-flowing stream of tender strings and aching vocals. Tracks ‘Your Love Is Killing Me’ and ‘Break Me’ share this moving combination. However, melancholy is not the sole mood of the album. Alongside the shimmering ballads, Van Etten delivers more upbeat and soulful melodies, namely ‘You Know Me Well’ and ‘Nothing Will Change’. This variation nods to Van Etten’s ever-changing style, a hint of quite how talented this lady really is.
From sultry piano to her acoustic guitar, Van Etten pretty much produced it all. Speaking to NME about her new release, the artiste revealed her fear of gaining popularity solely from collaboration with bigger acts, hence her predominantly self-produced EP, assisted only by a helping hand from music producer Stewart Lerman. The pair recorded the album in New Jersey’s Hobo Sound Studios and New York’s Electric Lady Studios. Van Etten’s self-assurance is part of her attraction: she is a true artist and not driven by pure hunger for fame. Guests on the album have been restricted to Van Etten’s friends only, and include Torres’ Mackenzie Scott and Jana Hunter of indie-rock band Lower Den.
Van Etten sings of desire, loss, love, fear and of course, the self. With a plethora of sounds and shapes, she sculpts her album with sheer heart-melting honesty. Speaking about the sound of the album, she has commented ‘my writing’s getting better and the arrangements are getting weirder, in a good way’. When it comes to Sharon Van Etten, it is always a good way.
Words - Claudia Turnbull
Are We There is available from May 26th via Jagjaguwar.