In this decade, there aren’t many artists who come as praised and respected by critics, fans and musicians alike as Sharon Van Etten. Prior to her latest release, each of her four studio albums had been well received for their harrowing portrayals of the human condition and consistently stellar vocal performances. She is a champion of writing memorable songs capable of haunting you as much as they are of lifting you up out of the gutter.
Consistent may very well be the perfect word to sum up Van Etten’s catalog. The East Coast singer-songwriter has been working her way up the ranks of folk rock for well over a decade, amassing a dedicated fanbase and gradually building one of the more solid discographies in her realm of indie music. Much adored for her skill in penning the agonizing ballad, Van Etten’s new album Remind Me Tomorrow arrives after a period of great anticipation.
Nearly five years since her last LP, Van Etten’s latest project features some of her best work yet. From the explosive synth-rocking “Comeback Kid” to the small town anthem “Seventeen,” her pengame remains poised and potent. The major change of pace in this record lies in its overall sound, as this time around, Van Etten opts for experimentation at nearly every turn, using more dynamic and spacious production than ever before.
On Remind Me Tomorrow, she unleashes an adventurous side previously unseen. She is unabashed and fearless in each risk she takes. Where her earlier records were sparse and intimate, Remind Me Tomorrow is rich and atmospheric. It’s less folk, more stadium rock. Less voice and guitar, more synthesizers and electronics. In some instances, this change in sound works as a supporting act for Van Etten’s reflective lyrics before eventually becoming the focal point of certain song, such as on the slow-building, piano-led memoir “Malibu.” On other tracks, such as on the gothic-flavored “Memorial Day,” the rhythms of the production lead the song and are the driving force behind the tune.
In almost all cases, the melding of Van Etten’s folk singer background and newly synthesized sound pallet works flawlessly. Amid sprawling soundscapes, she captures you in vivid, sketch-like illustrations of real-life scenarios and feelings. This is best portrayed on the intro track “I Told You Everything,” an unbearably tense confessional where Van Etten creates a dramatic portrait of dark relationship experiences from her past.
In Remind Me Tomorrow‘s most powerful moments, bursts of emotive desire lead to a pulsating beauty. Here, Van Etten still maintains her grip on melody, notably on the chorus of “Jupiter 4” – a track named after one of the synthesizers she was meddling with during this album’s creation. The momentum picks up even more on the following track “Seventeen,” a racing ode to the past that serves as the album’s sonic apex, harping back to the epic anthems of 1980s’ Bruce Springsteen. The intensity with which Van Etten tackles nostalgia is one of her main calling cards. At 37 years old, it also signals a strengthened level of self-assurance.
In a career with basically nothing but high marks of artistic achievement, Remind Me Tomorrow is a milestone. Individually, it stands as a brilliant piece of experimental rock. In the scope of an entire life’s work, it is a testament to Sharon Van Etten’s evolution. She was once a folk singer with subtle rock tendencies and a lot to say, caught up in the mix of a sea of contemporaries. Now she’s an established artist at the vanguard of modern day singer-songwriters, admirably progressing into her next phase of creativity and simultaneously growing as a human being.