A Journal Of The Dark Arts
She’s come a long way since those early days. Are We There is a jeweled tapestry of organs, slide guitars, horns, fiddles, drum machines and cheap synths. ‘O no,’ you might exclaim, ‘is this another roots artist trying to go retro, to get with the times. To be hip with the kids? Not hardly. This is no hazy ’80s bedroom pop (although there are aspects of that).
No no no no no….
Instead, it seems that Sharon Van Etten and her band prove themselves to be adventurous sonic explorers who will stop at nothing to get THAT PERFECT SOUND, era be damned. Because of it, 8-bit square wave keyboards, that sound like a Pac-Man tabletop machine belching out it’s guts, grind up against slow-dancing waltz drums, ’60s soul and swooning violins. SVE may have created one of the lo-fi generations’ first true masterpieces.
Everything about Are We There seems like A BIG RECORD. A classic record. You know, like someone’s favorite album ever. The kind of record that you return to, over and over again. The kind of record that helps you get through things. That you put on to pump you up, to inspire you, to make you cry, to hold you while you weep in the night.
This is accomplished, in part, by the mix. Mixing is so important, especially when you have a record with so many different parts. Where a lesser artist might sound like they’re just doing their thing and slapping an 808 or a gospel chorus on top, Sharon Van Etten has taken the time to level everything just right, and make it work as a cohesive whole. Because of it, dusted drum machines co-habitate peacefully with live drums. Classical strings swim with farfisa organs. Vocal harmonies dance like aerial ballet.
The mixing, the arrangements… it all combines to create a smooth and solid backdrop, for the main attraction, Van Etten’s voice, to soar. It is her voice, and her delivery, that speaks volumes, that separates her from the imitators. So full of pain, and emotion. Sometimes she is a bird, sometimes a barn door, creaking in the sun. Sometimes she crests and breaks like a wave in the sunlight. She says more in the space between words than many of us will say in our whole lifetime, and suddenly, we FEEL what she feels.
That glorious voice makes you want to listen to the words, to hear her stories. I’m not a particularly lyrically driven person, so this is a minor miracle, and speaks volume to what a tremendous record this truly is.
The majority of this record deals with love and relationships. During her 20s, Van Etten spent 6 years working at a cafe in Murfeesboro, Tennessee, learning how to write songs and being in a committed relationship. Her partner was not supportive of her creative endeavors, telling her she wasn’t good enough, that people would never listen. She eventually fled in the night, and wound up in Brooklyn, and penned her first record, Because I Was In Love.
This record is a victory for all of us who ever attempted anything. A call to arms to follow yr dreams. If anyone tells you yr not good enough, fuck them. Seriously. Fuck them. Just be good enough. Van Etten proves, for all of us, that if you have a dream, and if you work hard and follow through, ANYTHING could happen!
Van Etten has threatened that this could be her last record. We need to show her love and support, and not let that happen. Our world would be lesser, without her singing in it.
Are We There is like a less gothic and melodramatic Chelsea Wolfe or Wye Oak, and will appeal to fans of both. It also occupies a similar slowcore slow-waltz place next to Mazzy Star, on the same cavernous sound stage as Beach House. Van Etten is much more immediate and in focus, however, giving the same sense of romance and elegance, but without the vagueness.
I can’t recommend this record highly enough. Sharon Van Etten is the real deal, a true timeless artist, and Are We There is her finest record yet. It blends the intimacy of her earliest records with all of the songwriting and production nuances she’s learned along the way. If you’re just climbing on board, I recommend you start here, then go back to the beginning. It’s a beguiling narrative.
Sharon Van Etten – Are We There