Album Review: Sharon Van Etten – Remind Me Tomorrow

It is funny how small changes can make a big difference when it comes to music! Not that Sharon Van Etten needed much alteration and attention, mind! 2014’s Are We There was a critical smash and one of the finest records of that year. The main differences and alterations since then have revolved around sound and family. Van Etten, on Remind Me Tomorrow, puts the guitar to the back a little and utilises electronics and other patterns. That is not to say she has dispensed with her previous sound and gone mad; there is a noticeable change and it is good to hear her exploring new ground. Her new album is very much the sound of someone in the present; talking about sensitive impulses such as spirited nurturing and tender courage.

Remind Me Tomorrow as written whilst Van Etten was pregnant and there was a doubt whether she should stay and raise a child in New York. Whilst writing film music for director Katherine Dieckmann, the two spoke about the situation whereby Dieckmann spoke of her experience: a three-decade life in a rent-controlled apartment with her husband living across the hall from her. Maybe it was that conversation that sparked something but Remind Me Tomorrow is among the most personal, affecting and forward-looking albums of Van Etten’s career. She does, in some moments, talk to her younger self but there is plenty of looking to the future.

Working alongside John Congleton (producer), he helped work the scraps of songs and demos into something formed. Rather than go with the usual Van Etten template of minimal meditative; now, we have an energetic-upbeat that could be a gamble but, given the fact Van Etten was going through change and doubts, it fits Remind Me Tomorrow perfectly. The album’s title, actually, came from Van Etten and her computer. It promoted her for updates or something like that and she would always click the option for ‘remind me tomorrow’ – I think we all that option but, in a way, it seems like a metaphor for the album itself! The desire on Remind Me Tomorrow is to project a bright future for her young son. Rather than get affected by the angst and struggle around them, the record has that calmer disposition and sense of hope. Maybe this is a mask but it is one that has led to a brilliant album.

‘I Told You Everything’ comes in gradually and it is an unexpected start to the album. Rather than explode with life and come in with synths; Van Etten tenderly brings in piano notes and delivers her messages calmly. She is at the bar and has met this figure. Whether a lover of friend, she has told them everything and it seems like the revelations are pretty heavy. I was instantly immersed by the soothing sounds and how meditative the song is – one that has a sharp with and plenty of personality. It might be hard to see the album as optimistic considering the opening track but it has a real beauty and is one of the most revealing and open songs on the album. Parted lovers and hard conversations; you are not 100% sure as to the song’s real truth and background but will be invested in every line. ‘No One’s Easy to Love’ gets the place moving and ups the pace. This is the first song that really shows the new weapons and sides to Van Etten’s attack. Rather than being guitar-led, it is a beats-and-electronics-led song that gets into the blood and allows Van Etten chance to step into new territory. It is almost like the first two songs are part of a talent. From the opening of regret and saying goodbye, the heroine is talking about the challenges of love and the struggles faced.

‘Memorial Day’ is sumptuous and alluring. Hummed vocals, heady beats and a dreamy backdrop mixes bits of Jazz, Trip-Hop and Pop to create something truly arresting. You can hear the lyrics but will find yourself more drawn to the incredible vocals and composition. A truly wonderful song that, again, is Van Etten exploring and expanding her rage. We have heard the single, ‘Comeback Kid’, and it is one of the most urgent and instant tracks in the set. Van Etten talks about a kid on her street and being like them; being someone and, as it seems, in need of a boost. One instantly thinks of the heroine being down but not giving up. She compared herself to others but, at the end of the day, her own strength and vision will see her rise again! Its chorus is one of the best I have heard for a long time and the song is impossibly addictive. A definite standout. ‘Seventeen’ deals with similar ideas and finds Van Etten conversing with her younger self. I wonder whether she regrets who she is not and has not achieved what she wanted to. The younger Van Etten was free and had these grand ideas – is the grown-up version a little cautious and is life as she imagined?! I found great hope in the song because, through it all, the heroine is looking forward and knows life has changed for the better. It is a great track and one that will get into the heart with ease.

‘Malibu’ seems to return to the opening track and has a more meditative pace. We get a wash of vocals before a striking beats drives the song forward. It is an evocative song and one that is filled with great lines (Van Etten walking through the door as the song’s subject was cleaning the floor whilst listening to The Black Crowes). Before we can decide whether this love is blossoming or there is a danger, synths come in and provide a spacey and hypnotic coda. It is a fantastic interjection and odd that you will not see coming. ‘Hands’ is one of the finest songs from Remind Me Tomorrow and is a muscular, yowling and head-spinning thing. Van Etten asks the subject to put their hands on their lover – maybe directed at herself or aimed at someone specific. This is one of the most challenging and fulsome compositions that has all sorts of warped electronics, dark beats and thunderous vocals. I love the twists and turns through the album and the fact there is this rollercoaster-like, quiet-loud dynamic regarding the tracklist. ‘Stay’ ends the album in fantastic fashion and is a dreamy, Trip-Hop-inspired cut that tells about someone (a lover?) who will let the heroine find her way. Whether she is emotionally lost or in need of support, you dive into the song and wonder how things end.

Remind Me Tomorrow is a welcome return from Sharon Van Etten and it holds some of her finest songs. It is an album that rewards several listens because there is a lot to take in and some sides of her personality her fans might not be used to. She has taken changes in her life – motherhood and doubts about the future – and channelled that into an album that is genuinely uplifting. If some songs talk about longing and departures, the abiding takeaway from Remind Me Tomorrow is that there is beauty to be found. One wonders whether this is a mask for her young son or whether she needed to understand that herself. It is early days in terms of 2019’s best albums but Sharon Van Etten had produced an early contender for album of the year. There are one or two songs that never quite resonate – including the single, ‘Jupiter 4’ – but maybe they need more time to settle and reveal themselves. It is hard to quibble and find fault because, after a single listen, you will fall in love with the album and keep playing it until all its layers and truths are revealed – a pleasurable proposition that will delight existing fans and bring new ones in.

Sharon Van Etten’s album, Remind Me Tomorrow, is released on 18th January, 2019 through Jagjaguwar. Pre-order here.