Love can be such a generic subject to explore – been done to death and then some. But when broken down into different shades, and looked at in a new light it has the potential to yield a product that is wholeheartedly indicative of the one delivering it. Then it can get interesting because the whole notion of honesty is without question there, it’s just a matter of whether or not the artist is adept enough to translate it onto wax.
For her fourth studio album Are We There, Sharon Van Etten opens up her hymnal and shows us some of the lesser talked about emotions that come with love like misery, depression, anger and surprisingly empowerment. Lyrically it’s another hit, but sonically not so much. The production tries to match previous ambitions, but in the end does little to enhance the final cut, which puts a giant cramp in the album’s stride. It sticks to one mood, and inadequately supports the lyrics – Van Etten’s bread and butter.
Nevertheless it’s a strong showing, reading more like a prequel than a full-length feature. As if she wanted to squeeze in one last melancholy album before embarking in a totally different creative direction. In the meantime it’s a project worth taking note of, something to explore on a dark, rainy day. It – at the very least – forces you to reexamine love and the type of abuse you’re willing to put yourself through just to experience it.
Pulling yourself out of the dung heap that is fear is never easy. It’s messy and it stinks. But with a humble guitar and a voice that soars like a flying squirrel it’s a process that can be incredibly inspiring. She’s at her wit’s end waiting, begging for her other half to wake-up and come to their senses:
What is life without taking chances, throwing caution to the wind and seeing where destiny takes you. It doesn’t always pan out, but sometimes the action itself is all that matters. Stir that idea with some yearning instrumentation and what you’ll have is a big inspiring bowl of “you can do it:”
Over the top dramatic, so much so that it’s one timpani solo away from snuffing out the lyrics altogether. Her voice just isn’t strong enough and all that negotiating between what she’s trying to do and what she actually can causes the lyrics to lose steam. Some bold statements get lost along the way:
Melodies flutter around like a swarm of wild monarchs, which is a fun backdrop to see fisticuffs let loose and fly. The juxtaposition is a bit hokey, but in all a compelling way to look at love as if part of the whole thing is acknowledging it as a farce – that love and hate are often one and the same:
It’s moments like this were you wish she would have called Beirut to handle the production. It’s virtually the same type of backdrop as the others, and could use some sprucing up – a little too understated for its own good. Some extra layers would add warmth to lyrics that seem cold and exclusive:
Pretty much stating the obvious at this point, yet done in a way that is elegant and undeniably pretty. Little in terms of instrumentation – some piano riffing here some light percussion there – but an appropriate place for her to be more transparent and let the details finally settle into place:
Part of knowing what love is is knowing what love isn’t, recognizing that the thing you thought was so right at the time is the reason why you feel like dog shit. It’s a heavy burden to come to terms with, but enough an eye-opener to motivate growth – a binge and purge excursion signaling the end:
Some serious abuse going on both physical and emotional. In that sense it’s honest and forthcoming, which is what every artist strives for. But the reoccurring theme of it throughout wears a little heavy on the mind, and anchors the album as it winds down. No happy ending in sight, at least for now:
Nothing does change, it’s the same breathy vocals waltzing over a galaxy of gentle melodies and lyrics that wrestle with past pains like they happened just yesterday. It’s enough to make you vomit mostly because the pattern she’s living in has no end. It’s painful but for all the wrong reasons:
There’s a lot of Joan Baez in Sharon Van Etten’s voice. Not so much in a throwback sort of way as it is just two people cut from the same cloth. The self-reflection is coming in from all angles and does a good job of not totally corrupting the experience. Enough room at the table for everyone:
Ending on a righteous note – on an album full of vulnerability and self-deprecation – is a safe, but smart out. It sets the stage for another album that’ll continue the narrative of her ongoing growth. The brashness is there and leaves you feeling confident. As if there was any doubt she’d survive: