Sharon Van Etten: We talked about it… | Review
Musicians tend to make some sort of sacrifice in the process of expanding their music to greater and more dramatic heights. As with all art forms, by reaching epic scale, performers can lose the grounded intimacy they have developed with their audience. Attempts to impart enormous emotional power can be perceived as oddly ineffective or cold. This can be especially pronounced when an artist transitions from creating stripped-down indie-folk to creating stadium-filling synth-oriented rock. Despite this challenge, Sharon Van Etten continued to incorporate subtle new apparent waves on 2019 Remind me tomorrow. On this record, Van Etten introduced the sound of retro drum machines and synths while retaining the subtlety and edge of his previous work. Regardless of the instrumental experimentation that surrounded Van Etten, his often double-tracked vocals always felt deeply personal. On the new record, with few exceptions, she applied her obvious love for new wave drama to nearly every facet of the songwriting.
Starting with “Darkness Fades”, Van Etten introduces this expanded sound. Initially, the sparse acoustic guitar supports moving statements of souring relationships. “It’s been a while since I held you closesings Van Etten. However, any trace of the quiet folk of his early work is dispelled as the subdued intro explodes into pounding drums and swelling synths. Through the chorus we are introduced to a reverb-soaked falsetto reminiscent of Elizabeth Fraser’s indecipherable voice on Heaven or Las Vegas.
We find here a recurring characteristic of the disc: everything seems enormous. Nearly every track features moments in which vocals or instrumentation seem to echo endlessly, sometimes merging into an amorphous sonic wave. This stylistic grandeur is reminiscent of Angel Olsen’s 2019 release, All mirrors. The two artists, friends and collaborators, aimed for a stratospheric sound, only where Olsen used a 12-string string section for this effect, Van Etten opted for the drones of the synthesizer.
This larger sound reflects a larger theme that Van Etten tackles. Contrary to Remind me tomorrow where the apocalyptic nuances seemed more personal, here they seem both personal and global; individual and collective. On “Anything,” another powerful iteration of the “Comeback Kid” rock anthem, when she sings the moments”before the sun takes it allthis dynamic is difficult to avoid. Elsewhere, the last moments of Born pursue a quasi-cosmological scale.
The industrial grungy tones of “Headspace” feeling like a more dramatic version of “Hands” from the previous album. On the stripped-down single song, “Darkish,” Van Etten’s alternately suave and haunting falsetto sounds like a more upbeat variant of the acoustic cuts in Radiohead‘s catalog at times. Indeed, Thom Yorke would never have uttered such a comforting phrase as “it’s not dark, it’s only dark.”
On such a grand record, there’s refreshing humor about the danceable “Mistakes.“ But there’s also a return to ethereality on the closest, “Far Away,” ending with Van Etten’s assurance: “I’ll be there.” Not just when you feel long lost.” Considering the recurring theme of motherhood, perhaps this is a future callback to her child. It’s a moving finale, encapsulating the album’s improbable optimism.
Ultimately, the degree of pleasure one experiences in listening We got it all wrong will largely depend on their tolerance for the epic drama and heavy synths of the 80s new wave. Yet the album still carries its characteristic honesty and edge, tying it to even his rarest early recordings. Even if some of the intimacy is lost, Van Etten’s understanding of something bigger is equally exciting.