Artist Sharon Van Etten Album Remind Me Tomorrow Label Jagjaguwar
★★★★☆ Like all of Sharon Van Etten’s previous albums, 2014’s Are We There was preoccupied by a previous toxic relationship – co-dependency couched in a sour combination of abuse and affection. Its follow-up opens with a track that references that period of disquieting soul-baring in the form of a meta-confessional:
I Told You Everything has Van Etten divulging the details of her traumatic past to a sympathetic new partner, but not the listener. It’s a move that acknowledges the musician’s suffering but also inches the story forward, hinting that the New Jersey native has a different life now (a suggestion confirmed by her hectic-sounding recent biography: over the past four years she has had a child, taken up acting and started studying for a degree in counselling). Change is something echoed in the sound of Remind Me Tomorrow, too, a collection that sees Van Etten edge away from her trademark guitar and towards drones, piano and vintage synths.
Van Etten is not alone in her decision to stop strumming and shift to electronic instrumentation – it feels as if half the rock and indie acts on the planet have made a similar move over the past few years. But the musician never appears to be jumping on a bandwagon. Instead, this new mode simply gives her stock-in-trade – gorgeous, timeless melodies, lyrical introspection and raw, plaintive vocals – a new gloss, one that veers between a buoyant 80s nostalgia and a more sinister sheen. Songs in the former camp include lead single Comeback Kid, which matches its warm portrait of delinquent adolescence with a cantering breakbeat and stuttering synth line; Malibu, a tribute to late 20th-century youth via the medium of a small red car; and the stupendously catchy, Springsteen- esque Seventeen. Counterbalancing these instantly memorable, flab-free slices of retro cheer are more obtuse atmospherics: Jupiter 4 is a ghostly love song that recalls Suicide; Memorial Day a fug of eerie Americana. Whether Van Etten is brooding on the present or pining for the good old days, however, the general impression remains the same: this ambitious, arresting album feels like the work of an artist wielding her considerable talents with newfound conviction. Rachel Aroesti Released on 18 January.