Rock

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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.

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