Some people think too much, or at least that’s the impression you receive square in the face when you take in the scope and philosophical complexity of Sharon Van Etten’s sixth album. The title alone is enough to steer you towards changing your mind and stroking your imaginary beard in contemplation. And those thoughts, those questions? They’re the really important ones: did we try enough to make even a slight impression on the people we cared about? Did we really protect our loved ones from threat or danger? When we hit rock bottom did we look up with our eyes open or down with our eyes shut?
Van Etten’s meditative album might seem as if it’s too burdensome to linger over, but the charisma and warmth of the songs hold sway over everything. She has said she would prefer the album “to be listened to in order … so that a much larger story of hope, loss, longing and resilience can be told”, and while only the listener can decide what best works for them, there is common sense in Van Etten’s wishes.
From start to finish there are sonic and tonal links: the opening Springsteen-ish Darkness Fades merges down the line with the Radiohead-like Darkish. What arrives in between and after is just as glorious and vital, with Van Etten’s melodic gifts very much to the fore.