Sharon van Etten

Are We There (Jagjaguwar)

Rating: NNNNN

Sharon Van Etten is one of the finest singer/songwriters of our time, with a completely realized sound – sombre but uplifting, minimal yet epic – and a darkly emotive voice completely her own. The Brooklyn musician exhales her lyrics as if she’s carrying the heaviest of loads and is about to collapse under the weight of it.

Of her four albums, she’s never released a stinker, but there was a sense of stasis to 2012’s Tramp. On her newest, the songs move and climb, melody makes a greater appearance, and the whole effect is excellently immediate. She leaves behind her guitar more often in favour of piano, most notably on Our Love, opting for a sparse, sexy electronic dance beat, and Tarifa, boosted by warm horns and organs.

Van Etten’s poetic lyrics continue to focus on navigating the complexities of love, but they hit harder and heavier. Take the song I Love You But I’m Lost, whose title says it all. On second-last song I Know, meanwhile, she turns in the performance of a lifetime. She gives everything, and it’s impossible to be unmoved.

Top track: Our Love

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