Sharon Van Etten

jag331Sharon Van Etten
Remind Me Tomorrow
Jagjaguwar
by David Chiu

(Photo by Ryan Pfluger)

If her most recent single, “Comeback Kid” was any indication, Sharon Van Etten’s new and fifth album, Remind Me Tomorrow, is going to surprise many of her fans who were previously accustomed to her melancholic indie folk rock sound. Coming after Van Etten’s four-year hiatus between studio albums to devote more time to her personal needs, the singer’s latest is quite bold-sounding both musically and lyrically than ever before. Employing John Congleton (best known for his collaborations with St. Vincent) as her producer, Van Etten incorporates electronic influences, particularly synthesizers, on Remind Me Tomorrow—not as a calculated bid for greater mainstream acceptance, but rather to expand her range and sonic palette (She even put her guitar aside for this record). The result is something dazzling and atmospheric recalling aspects of Nick Cave, Portishead and Suicide—references that Van Etten mentioned to Congleton as work began on the record: you can hear those electronic influences on several of the tracks like the stark-sounding “I Told You Everything” (lyrically, it packs an emotional wollop) and the dense and haunting “Memorial Day.” There’s also an electrifying intensity in her songs on this record than ever before, particularly on the aforementioned defiant rocker “Comeback Kid,” which sounds like Van Etten is summoning Pat Benatar and Patti Smith; and “Seventeen,” a meditation on generational differences and gentrification that recalls Bruce Springsteen at his most anthemic urgency. In addition to “Comeback Kid,” Van Etten branches out stylistically in addition to the use of synths; a track like “You Shadow” evokes a soulful, gospel-meets-hip-hop influence. If fans are concerned about this new direction, they need not be worried: her distinctive and emotive singing is ever-present as well as her direct and honest songwriting—such as on the romantic and touching ballad “Jupiter 4” and the  scenic ambiance of “Malibu”. Remind Me Tomorrow‘s closing song is another wonderful and elegant ballad “Stay,” which makes a reference to her being a mother for the first time. Each subsequent album that Van Etten has made since the mostly acoustic Because I Was in Love from 2009 represents a musical progression, and Remind Me Tomorrow is no different—there’s a confidence only just in her sound but also in the songwriting that contrasts with her previous sad songs; as Amanda Petrusich aptly put it in her New Yorker review of the album: “it’s the first of her records to linger more on contentedness than on pain.” Remind Me Tomorrow marks another leap forward for Van Etten in a career that continues to both evolve and astonish.

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