Are We There by Sharon Van Etten
This isn’t the first time the artist at #4 has appeared on the Top 31. Sharon van Etten appeared at #13 in 2012, with her third album, Tramp. That was a great album, and Are We There, her fourth, is better by nearly every measure. In my review of Tramp, I noted that it was “a winter album,” meaning it is more dark than light, more cold than warm. Are We There is no different. This is an album that will make you feel things, most of them not fun. Depression, abuse, and pain are at the heart of this album, and it is glorious.
Van Etten is from Brooklyn, like so many other artists on this year’s Top 31. She is a master of harmony, using multiple voices to convey her beautifully wrought poetry across the length of the album. There are a multitude of players on the album (check out the wikipedia page), but Van Etten plays a number of instruments all on her own, in addition to her lead singer / songwriter duties. Guitar, keyboards, Omnichord, drums, bass, and even some handclaps are thrown in for good measure.
Back in July I had the immense pleasure of seeing Van Etten and her band live at the Neptune. I wrote about the experience for The Sun Break:
Van Etten’s band (Darren Jessee (from Ben Folds Five) on drums, Doug Keith on guitar, Heather Woods Broderick on backup vocals and additional keyboards, and Brad Cook (from Megafaun) on bass) was very much on point, professional, and thoroughly enjoyable. And with Van Etten playing acoustic guitar, electric guitar, omnichord, organ and piano in addition to singing with the most powerful voice we’d hear that evening (and that’s saying something), the crowd was hanging on her every syllable.
Van Etten’s music is slow but not glacial. Languid but not weak. Sleepy but not tired. Listening to it, you can’t help but feel. Sadness, happiness, anger, joy — they’re all there, sometimes all at once. Amazingly, she is able to translate this feeling to the stage, performing these somewhat depressing songs with giddiness and a smile. “I’m weird, I’m totally weird. Is that ok with you?” she said, halfway through her set, and then she picked her nose. Seriously. It was such a menagerie of feelings, it could have been mistaken for schizophrenia.
But her set held together very well. Van Etten’s May 2014 album Are We There is one of my favorites of the year so far, and the songs got even better when heard live. The highlight of the album for me, “Your Love is Killing Me,” with the brutal first half of the chorus slowly singing “break my legs so I won’t walk to you; cut my tongue so I can’t talk to you; burn my skin so I can’t feel you; stab my eyes so I can’t see” is even more powerful sung right in front of you.
That song is featured in the video above. It slays me, every time. She has a number of other videos out from Are We There:
They’re all great, just like the rest of the album, which, if you haven’t been convinced by now to run out and purchase, well…there’s just no hope for you.
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