Sharon Van Etten – Are We There

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There is a distincitve quality in the voice of Sharon Van Etten that takes her to a different level in my ears.  As has been documented on these pages many times, myself and female vocalists have a chequered history.  This has nothing to do with the quality of the music on offer but more the fact that with all my music, I need a voice to be distinctive, imperfect and interesting.  The problem with a lot of female singers is this – they really can sing fucking perfectly.  The men in bands I love tend to not be the best singers – Jeff Tweedy, Ian Felice, Wayne Coyne, Mark Linkous, Bob Dylan, Neil Young – none of them could be classed as brilliant singers.  However, they do all use their voices as instruments and there is something in the quality of their voices that makes it all work.  I don’t want to hear Russel Watson-esque vocals, and there lies the problem.  Female vocalists I am drawn to – Bjork, Beth Orton, Martha Wainwright, for example, have all got that something distinct, impure and interesting in the tone and delivery of their words.  And Sharon Van Etten is another one.  And fuck me I am a bit obsessed with this new record.  Like The War on Drugs this album is kind of consuming my listening habits in the past week or so.

And it is odd because when I heard the first single from the album I thought “shit” because it felt really dull, safe and uninspiring.  After the brilliance of ‘Tramp’ my hopes were high for album four and so I was worried.  No need to be though.  Sharon Van Etten delivers a fourth album of real raw energy and takes on producer duties in the process.

Not that there is anything majorly different or ground breaking going on with album four but the focus on her voice, her words is even more prominent than on previous outings and, this is where the strength of the record lies.  I have always admired artists who can tackle the emotional strain of relationships in an honest and open manner.  Van Etten’s chosen subject matter tends to be love.  However, the slant is different.  It’s not all heart break and love songs about hurt and betrayal.  No, the focus is on the small things.  The things that make relationships work.  The minor acts.  For after all, sharing a life with somebody is a big thing filled with little things that make it special.  It’s not all high gloss and excitement.   And Van Etten gets to the heart of this on this record.  Never more so than on album closer “Everytime the Sun Comes Up” where she states “I washed your dishes, then I shit in your bathroom.”  It’s an amusing line but one we can all relate to.  And this is where the beauty of this album and Van Etten lie.  We can all relate to her words.  And we should all embrace her music.  She’s growing as an artist and I am loving being along for the ride.

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