When Sharon Van Etten sigh-sings to herself, “I wish I could show how much you’ve grown,” I can’t help but feel a similar stinging loss for who I used to be. When you listen to the track, Seventeen, and hear how her wisdom and grace extends to a fraught past self, it’s hard to not place yourself there and think of the versions that no longer exist. And to be tender.
Van Etten’s music has always leaned hard into visceral, emotional moments. But on her fifth album, she’s grown. She’s assumed new roles, literally as a mother, actor and student. She’s in love – a real, giving kind of love. There’s a new optimism imprinted in her songs, like on Jupiter 4. She sings “my love is for real” and pays tribute to her path: “How’d it take a long, long, time / to be here?”
Sonically, Remind Me Tomorrow is still brooding and dark. Van Etten is more experimental and open with her sounds, like the way she blends soft piano keys with a dense synth on Malibu. She takes her time and feels through the spaces between the instruments, her vocals and her wry lyrics. No One’s Easy To Love, the semi-anthemic album standout, thumps and drones with playful, intermittent synths as her voice elongates, curling around your brain and refusing to leave. Her music is generous in its illumination of depth.
There’s a sense of solace on the record. Everything before was a hard reckoning, and she knows trouble is never far off, but she’s breezy here. Comfortable, even.
Van Etten’s work is a rotary of emotional experiences, most often the tumultuous motions of loving and loving the wrong person. But here her purpose is clear, sharp. She writes about loving holistically, and maybe finally of loving a self that exists as it is.
Top track: No One’s Easy To Love
Sharon Van Etten plays the Danforth Music Hall on February 11. See listing.
@nowtoronto | @sarahsmacdonald