The New Jersey songwriter flips the script with an electrifying pop album with plenty of heart. Don't call it a comeback – but this is Van Etten's most immediate work to date
In October, Sharon Van Etten released her first new song in almost five years. ‘Comeback Kid’ a thumping slice of electro-pop, coincided with the announcement that she didn’t want the single and her fifth album, ‘Remind Me Tomorrow’, “to be pretty”. Mission accomplished, then. Because this album, in all its chaotic glory, is raw, heavy and almost certainly the most immediate piece of work she’s done thus far.
That mindset reflects the album’s scattered conception and completion. Given that it was written while she was pregnant with her first child, starring in Netflix’s hit show The OA and studying to become a mental health counsellor, it’s no surprise that Van Etten says this period in her life forced changes. This hectic schedule made her embrace new styles of songwriting, swap guitars for pianos and synths and hand over the self-recorded demos to a new producer, John Congleton (Angel Olsen, Future Islands).
The record opens on a confessional note amidst stabs of doomy piano as Van Etten reminiscences of the time “she told you everything” in the frank –and appropriately titled – ‘I Told You Everything’. Furthermore, the album’s tearjerker, ‘Seventeen’, is a love letter to New York City, whereby she reflects and speaks to her younger self: “I wish I could show you how much you’ve grown.” A fitting moment of contemplation following her period of upheaval.
Congleton has built arrangements around Van Etten’s guitar work, resulting in pure euphoria. ‘No One’s Easy To Love’ is full of beefy basslines and shuffling drum beats, while the slinking ‘You Shadow’ is both laid-back and arresting, as Van Etten’s piercing vocals act as the song’s driving force. There’s softer moments, too. ‘Stay’ and ‘Malibu’ could both slot into previous albums such as ‘Are We There’ and ‘Tramp’, but are expanded on with production trickery and haunting soundscapes.
‘Remind Me Tomorrow’, then, serves not so much as a nudge, but a forceful and playful shove to remind listeners just how special Van Etten’s talent is on both a lyrical and musical level. Don’t call it a comeback, but it may well be her most intoxicating and impressive work to date.
Release date: January 18, 2019
Record label: Jagjaguwar