Album Reviews

Sharon Van Etten’s “Are We There” hurts


by Whitney Richardson

Brooklyn’s Sharon Van Etten gave birth to her fourth album Are We There last month. Shadowing her 2009 debut, Because I Was In Love, the album heavy-bellies in the same lovelorn notebooks, digesting a stinging romance by waving folky, impersonal heartbreak songs at her audience.

The album is purely Sharon Van Etten – following a signature song progression flowing free form along the borders between lovers. I can’t say, necessarily, that I find this to be particularly appealing. The package is a little boring, a little predictable and feels immature and hollow. Few songs carry spark. With that said, the album is incredibly easy to ignore and parallels the monotony of heartbreak. I find myself tensing when I try to listen closely, yearning to dust off the vocals, was it “Even I have taken my chances?” or… “Even I’ve taken my chances on you.”?

Her wispy, foiling vocals are akin to following the movement of a scarf crawling in the wind and getting caught in a dirty vacuum.  On much of the album she sounds lifeless and hollow, singing objectively about feelings. The music follows along mostly undetected. The poop reference toward the end helps shed light on the spirit within the singer, the soul and humanity behind these alleged felt emotions. That line contains the raw elements that fall short on the rest of the album. The highlight, “Our Love”, gives me the surge of energy I’m looking for. The beat and the sentiment feel ripe and alive.

This is not escapist or ethereal music. It’s a thorough encapsulation of antagonistic romance and the hardening experience. The album grew on me. Its melody is familiar. When Iife hurts, I can relate. I end up wanting to offer some counsel to Van Etten. It’s been five years since you began archiving your romantic charades through song and the rhythm remains the same. It might be time for some creative and emotional growth and reflect on patterns. I’d like to see Sharon push herself. With that said, I can’t seem to find a friend who doesn’t like her music. The album ends in the same way as a Britney Spears album in the early 2000s, giggling.

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