It was once easy to file Sharon Van Etten under “confessional singer-songwriter”. The connecting tissue between her albums was invariably guitar-driven reflections on love. After four years away in which she’s had a baby, returned to university and starred in The OA, the New Jersey native’s worldview has expanded considerably – and with it her music.
Remind Me Tomorrow is a diverse collection of muscular songs that traverse nostalgia, depression, love, motherhood, and more with new-found confidence. On the Springsteen-indebted ‘Seventeen’, Van Etten swaps her country-tinged guitars of yore for widescreen Americana that’s riddled with different voices and teen vignettes. ‘Comeback Kid’ feels like its companion piece with multiple narratives and lunging ’80s synthpop punch.
Piano arpeggios, slinky basslines and mechanical rhythms mobilise a stunning lullaby on ‘Stay’, which hears Van Etten examine impending motherhood. She’s conflicted with losing her identity (“don’t wanna run away from myself”) while marvelling at parenthood’s grounding effects (“you won’t let me go astray”). The album’s most arresting tracks, ‘No One’s Easy To Love’ and ‘Hands’, chug along with distorted basslines and industrial beats that crank the complex wheel of love. The lyrics “Put your hands on your lover / I’ve got my hands up / Mean no harm to one another” on ‘Hands’ are purposefully ambiguous. A manipulative relationship teetering on violent? Van Etten makes it harder to surmise the stories this time: life’s too complex, too turbulent. Remind Me Tomorrow is her most intelligent, daring and assured work to date.
Photo by Ryan Pfluger.
Live: Roundhouse on March 26th