If you’re an ignorant doofus like me, you have a certain assumption about what a singer-songwriter is, and what their music sounds like. Even though I know better, the term still conjures up images in my head of a single person with an acoustic guitar playing a set in a coffee shop. And you’re at the coffee shop watching this set, and all the songs are fine and pretty and all that, but there’s a lot of plaintive, performative sensitivity that’s hard for aggressively sarcastic nerds like me to take seriously, and you leave wondering, what distinguishes this person’s music from any of the other legions of singer-songwriters to come along in the last 50 or so years?
Again, I know that this is a ridiculous stereotype I carry around, and one I should try to overcome. Fortunately, Sharon Van Etten’s new album, Remind Me Tomorrow, is here to kick my ass back into reality.
Remind Me Tomorrow spends a lot of time crafting icy soundscapes, layering deeply felt vocal performances over top, and milking the contrasts for all they’re worth. The dry, open piano chords of opening track I Told You Everything are the sonic equivalent of being shoved into an ice bath, but as the vocal begins to trickle in, warmth is reintroduced. This same formula is used again on standout song Jupiter 4, with a cold synthesizer drone (made by a Jupiter 4 synthesizer, the track’s namesake) serving as a foundation for Van Etten to stretch her voice with unflinching openness. She sounds distant, but also honest and soulful, and the net effect of both of these elements existing and making perfect sense together is stunning. But the album’s best track and centerpiece is Seventeen, a driving, propulsive, Springsteen-esque reflection on the freedom of youth and the terror and uncertainty that comes with it. It’s fantastic.
Remind Me Tomorrow is a fantastic album, one that stretches the possibilities of musical expression. It’s great and you should listen to it. That is all.
Highlights: Jupiter 4, Seventeen, Hands