After 4 years away from any it can be hard to find your voice again. It can be hard to find the same fire or wind which propelled you and your output before the break. Not so for Sharon Van Etten. Following Are We There her album Remind Me Tomorrow is a significant step forward in a career which now incorporates so much more than before.
This album is a record written in stolen bits of time, between becoming a mother, between auditioning for TV roles and between general life. Van Etten said “I wrote this record while going to school, pregnant, after taking the OA audition, I met Katherine Dieckmann while I was in school and writing for her film. She’s a true New Yorker who has lived in her rent-controlled west village apartment for over 30 years. Her husband lives across the hall. They raised two kids this way. When I expressed concern about raising a child as an artist in New York City, she said ‘you’re going to be fine. Your kids are going to be fucking fine. If you have the right partner, you’ll figure it out together.’”
Van Etten continues, “I want to be a mom, a singer, an actress, go to school, but yeah, I have a stain on my shirt, oatmeal in my hair and I feel like a mess, but I’m here. Doing it. This record is about pursuing your passions.”
The title of the album follows this same blend of ‘real-life’ and pursuing your art. Van Etten goes on “The album title makes me giggle. It occurred to me one night when I, on autopilot, clicked ‘remind me tomorrow’ on the update window that pops up all the time on my computer. I hadn’t updated in months! And it’s the simplest of tasks!”
It speaks of Van Etten’s incredible work that she was so in demand, even finding time to lend music to the great David Lynch for the new Twin Peaks and other scores along the way. But what shouts over all of that is the music.
Here is where Van Etten alongside her producer John Congleton really develop her sound and create a piece of work that will stand the test of time. On her simmeringly moody track ‘Comeback Kid’ which beats like a bare-knuckle boxer at a disco, Van Etten said she developed the sound further because she “didn’t want it to be pretty” and it certainly thuds like a menace. While ‘Memorial Day’ has the kind of deep droning sound which would feel right on a Portishead album. Contrastly, ‘Seventeen’ offers a more American road trip revolution, making its content of longing and generational knowledge feel unaffected and glimmering.
It is this combination of light and dark which permeates the LP. As while there is an over-arching theme of gloom, Van Etten’s content is remarkably gilded with joy, tenderness, and love. The move away from strictly strings to incorporating keys and synths has left her music being able to express these dual themes without feeling conflicted. Instead, it feels wholly encompassing of a world and a society fighting its own moral civil war.
Remind Me Tomorrow shows not only Van Etten’s mastery of her own artistry and what that should be, not only the joy of love and but of her concerns on the world she’s brought her young son in to. “There is a tear welling up in the back of my eye as I’m singing these love songs,” she says, “I am trying to be positive. There is to them. It’s— I wouldn’t say it’s a mask, but it’s what the parents have to do to make their kid feel safe.”
This album is another huge step forward in the varied career of Sharon Van Etten. It is one she’s made with extra weight, extra light, extra happiness, and extra anxiety – it’s a step she’s made with life on her back. But most importantly, it’s a step she’s taken with the sure-footed composure of a woman determined to only leave the right footprints as she goes.
Remind Me Tomorrow is out on January 18th via JagJaguwar