Sharon Van Etten: Remind Me Tomorrow review – Gritty update for the soul

Fri, Jan 11, 2019, 05:20

   
 

Album:
Remind Me Tomorrow

Artist:
Sharon Van Etten

Label:
Jagjaguwar

Genre:

Remind Me Tomorrow begins with an end. Laying all of her cards on the table on the confessional I Told You Everything, Sharon Van Etten spills her truth to a long-term lover as hollowed-out keys reverberate over her despondent statements. Amicably – “We held hands as we parted” – they go their different ways.  She moves on and starts anew – both personally and sonically.

In the five years since Are We There, Van Etten has become a mother, returned to university to study psychology, composed her first movie score – for Katherine Dieckmann’s Strange Weather – and guest-starred in the Netflix supernatural series The OA.

To play these new roles, an element of self-analysis is not just necessary but compulsory, and on this new record, Van Etten digs deep into her psyche – and her past – and presents a heightened version of herself, flaws and all.

It’s grittier than what we’re used to hearing from the New Jersey-reared New Yorker; the pained No One’s Easy to Love eliminates the notion that all love stories come with a happy ending. Coming from a lived and learned experience, she sheds any naivety she once held on to and develops a hardened shell, creating solitary and only mildly downtrodden characters in songs like the Springsteen-esque single Comeback Kid and Memorial Day, with the latter relying on swirling and ominous synths to create a distorted sense of doom. Malibu and Jupiter 4 ring out like memories of when things made sense to Van Etten.

Colours, sounds and feelings are in technicolour and surround-sound, but they’re ultimately disconnected from her new perspective. Battling with what she used to feel and what she knows now to be true, she replays scenes from her old life, as if she’s undergoing an out-of-body experience. She looks for a resemblance between the two versions of herself. “I used to feel free, was that just a dream?” she sings to her younger self on Seventeen. “Think you’re so carefree but you’re just seventeen. So much like me.”

Pianos and synths are the driving force of this album; Van Etten’s usual folk sound is replaced with something steelier, something more raw. Aided by the production skills of John Congleton, who has worked with David Byrne, St Vincent, Modest Mouse, Angel Olsen and a multitude of others, Van Etten creates something completely different from her previous output. It’s the difference in Peter Parker after he was bitten by a radioactive spider, but instead of scaling walls and gaining sticky fingers, her superpower is finding strength in her misgivings and realising that hardships and flaws are part and parcel of life. And we can change the direction of our life at any stage.

According the singer, the album’s title is inspired by those software update reminders we get on our laptops. “It occurred to me one night when I, on autopilot, clicked ‘remind me tomorrow’ on the update window that pops up all the time on my computer,” she says, “I hadn’t updated in months. And it’s the simplest of tasks.”

Real-life updates take a little longer but Remind Me Tomorrow feels like a jolt of life, a reawakening or a realisation that ruts aren’t forever. On Hands, she sings, “I want to make sense of it all, we could handle it all when we were young,” but, sounding more confident and more bare than ever before, it seems like Van Etten has a firm handle on it all.