Sharon Van Etten – Are We There

arewethere.lpoutSharon Van Etten is something of a rarity; a singer-songwriter that has somehow avoided the trappings that title brings. Her quiet vulnerability coupled with an underlying confidence gives her music a believably balanced quality. A hauntingly sweet voice, patiently wading through each song echoes the likes of Aimee Mann and Lana Del Rey, yet her identity remains untouched, her unwavering voice instantly recognizable. Garnering a significant following and enjoying the likes of Bon Iver and The National covering her seminal single “Love More”, Van Etten’s fourth album Are We There, picks up where the brooding Tramp left off, yet it seems she’s once again reinvigorated her sound.

“Afraid of Nothing” acts as the perfect slow burner to begin Are We There, the simplicity of sauntering piano and guitar allowing Van Etten’s vocals to revel in the emptiness of it all. Her vocals soon become ethereal, a languid 6/4 groove patiently leads the song to a humble close, the album suitably introduced. It’s a sound we’ve come to love and associate with Van Etten, and it’s one that is quickly forgotten on her single “Taking Chances”.

Methodical drum machines, distant humming synth and faraway guitar pave the way for some of Etten’s most memorable melodies, the chorus injected with a beguiling indie charm. It’s a real departure from what we’re used to, yet it’s still intrinsically everything Etten has ever been, just in a different wrapper. Surprisingly though, it’s the only song of its kind on the record, the remaining forty-minutes of the album following on from where “Afraid of Nothing” left off. Whilst those forty-minutes take us back into a world only Etten could create, there’s still a distant melody floating above the clouds, one that lingers in the air, begging to be heard once more.

Are We There is another salient piece from Etten, it retains that same heart-felt honesty, eschewing the overtly cryptic or romanticized lyrics so often found in the genre. The chorus for “Your Love is Killing Me”, is unrelenting in its frankness; “Break my legs so I won’t walk to you, cut my tongue so I can’t talk to you, burn my skin so I can’t feel you, stab my eyes so I can’t see you.” Her unfaltering gift for crafting such alluring melodies and harmonies is what sears each lyric into our minds, the latter half of the album being home to some of her most poignant and affecting moments. And as the perfect closer “Every time the sun comes up” drifts away, the melancholic reverie is lifted by a studio outtake as Etten laughs into the microphone. It’s a simple addition but one that provides the perfect closure to Are We There, an album which transfixes and enamours from start to finish.

Release: 26th May 2014, Jagjaguwar Records

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