sharon

Reviews of Sharon Van Etten’s 2012 breakthrough, ‘Tramp’, afforded so much credit to her (admittedly broad) range of collaborators that it almost didn’t feel as if you were reading about a solo record. That might have been the motivation for her approach to ‘Are We There’; she’s chosen a producer, Stewart Lerman, of considerably lower profile than his predecessor (The National’s Aaron Dessner), and relocated to New Jersey to record, perhaps hoping to avoid all those pesky friends of hers who kept dropping by her Brooklyn studio last time around (Wye Oak’s Jenn Wasner, Beirut’s Zach Condon and Dessner’s twin, Bryce, all ended up on ‘Tramp’).

The result is a triumph for a young songwriter who is no longer suggesting that she’s one of America’s finest; she’s demanding to be acknowledged as such. The instrumental rationale is clear throughout; allow guitars and piano to form a gentle backdrop and let Van Etten’s sumptuous vocals do the heavy lifting. The orchestral flourishes are tremendously well judged, from the fluttering strings on ‘Afraid of Nothing’ to the mournful horns on ‘Nothing Will Change’. Best of all, though, is the manner in which she’s managed to create what feels like a mood piece; her elegant approach to emotionally candid lyricism is nimbly matched by the sound of the record throughout. Van Etten’s executed her vision for ‘Are We There’ with impressive assurance; she can enjoy the lion’s share of the praise for herself this time.

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