“No one’s easy to love,” Sharon Van Etten sings –– but fans of Van Etten will have no trouble falling in love with her latest release. Her new album Remind Me Tomorrow is 10 tracks of the otherworldly and strange. One may find it initially disconcerting, with its repetitive, hypnotic sounds and Van Etten’s crooning. The album even presents itself as yet another somber, indie-pop pity-party, with soft vocals and an abundance of longing. The opening track “I Told You Everything” is quiet and lonely, the lines “Sitting at the bar / I told you everything” tinged with the subtle tone of regret. “Memorial Day,” too, feels at times almost alien. In fact, the entire first half of the album hangs on the cliff’s edge of bitter and sad.
The album, however, is anything but sad. It is truthful, it is vulnerable, it is powerful, it is a knock-your-socks-off dose of catharsis.
The album quickly grows in passion, power and energy from beginning to end. “Comeback Kid” comes roaring to life by the fourth track, all at once familiar, willful and wild. Van Etten’s story of a directionless runaway hits close to home –– maybe too close. Van Etten sings, “Don’t let me slip away,” a plea of help that resonates in the darker spaces of the mind. But again, it’s not sad or painful, but rather relieving to hear someone else put to words a fear we often bury: a fear of losing our way. “Jupiter 4” and “Seventeen” also come bearing a dose of honesty — of acknowledgement — that is cathartic. Then, the penultimate closer, “Hands” is like a tsunami of emotion compared to the bare-bones quiet of the opener, “I Told You Everything.”
It’s almost as if a movie-styled time-skip has occurred, where the main character grows up in a series of brief, interconnected scenes. The entire album feels like a bad case of deja-vu. The songs reach across a lifetime of follies, victories, and winding paths –– the well worn and the (as of yet) unexplored. It’s only by the end of the last track that one realizes the magic Van Etten has woven into her album: The stranger Van Etten sings of is actually you.
No, not everyone has experienced the same ups and the same downs that Van Etten describes, but the lingering sense of uncertainty throughout the album brushes close to home. Growing up is confusing and scary –– full of crossroads, decisions and forked paths. The bare orchestration of the songs, combined with the soft vulnerability of Van Etten’s singing sometimes seems as if she could be that voice inside your head, the one that knows all your secrets, all your desires and all your regrets. Alarming though it may seem to have someone look right through all the walls and defenses, the end result is so very satisfying.
“What do I do?” “Where do I go?” “How do I do this?” Van Etten embraces this uncertainty. She completely, utterly owns it. And from this acceptance is a rare sense of freedom. It then seems so simple for listeners to do the same.