Four years is a long time in music. Between Remind Me Tomorrow and Are We There, Sharon Van Etten took time out to get her degree in psychology with a view to become a mental health counsellor. For anyone who has listened to Van Etten, this seems like a natural fit. Previous albums connected with raw emotions and discussed them with no sense of inhibition, allowing her listeners to connect with their own emotions. With Van Etten’s strong and steadfast grasp on the human connection, it seems like music may be the gateway to therapy.
Remind Me Tomorrow takes a different route from her other heartbreak albums. Her new sound doesn’t centre itself around love and love lost, but around parenthood, friendship and the realisation that intense emotions are not only for intimate relationships. This could be down to all the changes that have happened in the past 4 years. Starting school, falling in love and becoming a mother can change a person. Previous albums searched for answers, a wail of confusion and frustration at the state of the world around her. Remind Me Tomorrow is a testament to the power of change.
If disruptive relationships were a staple of Van Etten’s back catalogue, it could be fair to say that positive relationships may be the focus of future albums. “I Told You Everything” focuses on an intense caring friendship. With lingering notes like stories and reactions between friends, this song is nearly cinematic. With every line, it’s like a camera is moving from one side of the table to the other as each person speaks. Throughout the song, the background drone give the impression of a busy bar, but in the end, the simple harmony is an intimate conversation between two people. An intimate discussion in a busy world.
“Stay”, an ode to her child describing how motherhood has forced her to focus on something singular instead of trying to fix the world’s problems as well as all of humanity’s flaws. Haunting harmonies create a sadness that hangs over this enlightened melody. While she has let go of what is not important to her, this has cleared space for apprehension. Apprehension of the future and how her child will one day have to leave.
The judgment and reaction of others is known territory to Van Etten but never have they been dealt with with such experience. “You Shadow” deals with the universal reality that you can’t please everyone. Her new found contentment slips on this track in which she balances objective and somewhat diplomatic rhetoric with backing that is simmering with anger. A guitar intermittently rips through the measured lyrics and recreates unwanted conversations that we have all had. In the bridge, however, Van Etten loses her cool. With anger rising, it is objectivity that prevails, making “You Shadow” a constant mantra to help deal with unruly reactions to others.
While everyone else is trying to keep difficult emotions at bay, Van Etten is working with hers, allowing them to dictate the music resulting in a raw full expression of emotion. Making sure to engage with them and to make them heard. The abundance of expressed emotion is a tonic in a world where being emotionless is the new normal. This album embodies the human condition with an air of calm and tranquility with an undercurrent of rage.
Maybe this album should be prescribed as a self-help guide to the human condition. It’s no coincidence that Van Etten’s long term goal should include becoming a counsellor. This album is like therapy in itself.