This year is already showing a trend of musicians returning after long absences and releasing fantastic new music, and I am entirely here for it. Sharon Van Etten’s first record of new material since 2014, Remind Me Tomorrow is a defiant evolution of sound and musical personality in addition to being an eminently listenable record about maturity and love.
The album is produced by John Congleton, who has worked with artists like St. Vincent on her Grammy-winning self-titled album, as well as David Byrne and Angel Olson and his sound comes through clearly in this record. I suppose if you were extremely attached to the melancholic guitar-fueled quiet power of Van Etten’s previous work, this album might feel like a jarring attempt at a more popular sound, but the Van Etten you know and love is still completely here. The songs are fueled more by keys and prominent rhythms, but Van Etten’s powerful melodies and raw vocals are as audible as ever, with her songwriting crafting stories, moods and moments that can be simultaneously romantic and foreboding.
The album’s beginning is immediately compelling, with “I Told You Everything” and its measured pace and sparse lyrics conveying a world of emotion. It’s a simply told story of a complex moment, a moment or a night when you share your stories and your past with someone and you feel your relationship change. The album is sprinkled with scenes like this, which describe the mundane moments in which people can fall in love, from sharing a drink to finding your partner cleaning the floor while listening to the Black Crowes, as in “Malibu.” While the album has plenty of romanticism, it all comes couched in aural darkness and heaviness (most evident on the wonderfully overwhelming “Jupiter 4”) that balances out the scenes of new love. It’s a mature approach to love, an approach that is fully aware that “no one’s easy to love,” as the Congleton-heavy second track says.
In that way, the centerpiece standout of the album, “Seventeen,” is something like the glue that holds the album together thematically. The open-air-ready song finds Van Etten looking back at her youth, when she lived more “freely”, but was insecure and nervous and without the hard-won wisdom present-day Van Etten carries, which has led her to this maturity and love in her life. Van Etten sings to her younger self with love, though, because although she may have known less and made mistakes she became the present Van Etten, and she got her to this point today. Most of the song sounds very “pop” compared to a lot of Van Etten’s output, but her raw, truly vulnerable vocals at the end are a reminder of what she can do so well, which is to reach inside of her heart and soul and convert a piece of herself into song.
Remind Me Tomorrow is largely made up of stunners, with even the less “showy” songs enchanting you easily when you give them your time. Late-album tracks, “You Shadow” and “Hands” are both adult pieces of wisdom about finding authenticity and a loving touch, respectively, while “Comeback Kid” is a rocking song that serves as Van Etten’s clarification that we don’t know all sides of her and can’t box her in to one style of music based on her previous work. That song’s spirit carries through every track, imbuing each one with a confidence that doesn’t allow for haters. Van Etten lets the defiant stance fall for just a moment at the end with “Stay,” the gentlest and quietest song on the album that sings about the unparalleled and unwavering love between a mother and child. It’s the ultimate form of mature love, and the song requires no heavy synths or distorted riffs to convey its message.
With Remind Me Tomorrow, Sharon Van Etten has made an album that feels effortless, personal yet universal, and genuinely adult; it’s one of the first can’t-miss albums of 2019.