On the cover of her third album in the last four years (pictured at right), indie singer/ songwriter Sharon Van Etten is pictured with her head pushed outside a car window.
The vehicle, with Van Etten at the wheel, appears to be in motion, giving the background a blurred appearance. And though her face is turned away from the camera, one gets the sense that Van Etten is smiling.
Why, you ask? Why is an artist known for singing songs filled with ache, emotion and lovelorn sentiment smiling? Maybe it’s because she’s finally arrived.
Titled Are We There, Van Etten’s latest release already knows the answer to the question it’s asking. While on 2012’s Tramp the sound of Van Etten’s music leaned heavily on lush orchestration giving the final result a cohesive albeit at times insular feel, this new record seems to relish the thought of its own grandeur.
Opening track, “Afraid of Nothing” sets the tone. Over rolling piano and distant drums the song builds slowly as if pinned musically to Van Etten’s wish for the day to come when she and a companion, “hide from nothing.” The use of the word “we” in the song could reference just one couple, or it could be a larger statement, a true desire for “we” as an audience to long for a day without fear or worry. Either way the sincerity with which the line is sung sucks you in, regardless of the incredulous thoughts one might conjure about a record that so blatantly wears its own heart on its sleeve.
When the next number, “Taking Chances,” begins with more pronounced drums and Van Etten’s own echoed harmony, an astute listener might be tempted to start taking the song titles on Are We There at face value. The track is markedly different from the record’s first, and its stabs of distorted guitar drive home the fact that this is music that still resides outside the status quo. Is it as catchy as a Lady Gaga cut or a Katy Perry pop confection? No, but the fault for that fact doesn’t fall on Van Etten’s songwriting. She manages to craft a tune that can get stuck in your head, but one that doesn’t make you feel a bit sick as a result of its residence inside your cranium.
Watch the official video for "Taking Chances" by Sharon Van Etten here:
By the time the sound of horns crops up on “Tarifa,” Van Etten’s spell seems to be in full effect. She even strips back some of the production for the piano ballad “I Love You But I’m Lost,” harkening back to the more intimate sound of her 2010 effort epic, and never misses a beat.
Speaking of production, given that Van Etten self-produced Are We There along with producer/ recording engineer Stewart Lerman, the sound of the album all but bleeds with her growing confidence as an artist. She’s matured with every record she’s released, and her standing in the music community is still rising. If the world hasn’t noticed yet, it better get ready.