Sharon Van Etten - Are We There

Sharon Van Etten makes the sort of records that are easy to take for granted. There are no fanciful or particularly groundbreaking sonic flourishes here because it's not necessary, and as the producer of Are We There (Jagjaguwar, May 2014), she knows that. The album feels familiar, and I couldn't help but recall the sort of mellow understated landscapes we expect out of fellow Jagjaguwar label mate Bon Iver. Perhaps more than Vernon 'n' pals and most artists in the indie world, Van Etten relies on one weapon more than any other: her voice. Transcending any deficiencies one might find melodically, Van Etten's vocals cut through like a hot serrated knife through the skin. Yes, Are We There hurts, and she wants it to.
The album starts of with the swirling builder, "Afraid of Nothing". I need you to be afraid... she pauses, before adding ...of nothing. It's emblematic of the writing throughout the record, constantly subverting your expectations both throughout the record, and within individual songs. It's difficult not to find yourself drawn in by her grand and visceral lyricism. Nowhere does this come through more powerfully than on the knockout, "Your Love is Killing Me", which is easily one of the best songs you are likely to hear this year. It's a song so good and so massive that it threatens to topple the rest of the album, and it almost does; but follow-up "Our Love" takes a lighter, bouncier tone (at least musically), and sets the stage for a mellower but no less lyrically biting record. There's only so much pain one can handle in 51 minutes.
The album closes off with one of my favorite closers in some time, "Every Time the Sun Comes Up". It's a woozy, gorgeous, lyrically bizarre song you're sure to have on loop that ends the album on a high note. Before finishing off, we hear Van Etten singing, Maybe something will chaaaangggge before erupting into laughter. It's a fitting, funny, and nonchalant way to end such a crushing, heavy record. She's all right, guys!
Best for: You having a rough day? Were you recently emancipated from an emotionally abusive relationship? Find the largest bottle of wine at your local SAQ and sit down, child.
Rating: 4/5

-- Ken C. hosts Out of Tune every Wednesday at 4 PM EST on CJLO.