Sharon Van Etten – Remind Me Tomorrow

Here’s a case study in why albums should not be reviewed on short notice. Had I written about Remind Me Tomorrow in late January, given roughly a week’s listening time, I would have offered a very different take.

After a pair of near-perfect LPs (Epic and Tramp) Sharon Van Etten’s last outing, 2014’s Are We There was solid but a bit samey. She then took time off the road to lead a normal life and reboot – although landing a role on a cable TV series kinda shattered her everywoman aspirations. When Van Etten returned to music – infant son in tow – she traded her guitar palette for synths, collaborating with producer John Congleton on a largely refashioned sound. My first reaction: “Congleton’s turned her into St. Vincent.” That’s hardly a crime, but I prepared to move Sharon into “respect more than I love” territory.

Gradually, though, the subtleties shone through. Despite the heavy dose of electronics (guitar/bass/drum credits are listed for nearly every track, but you’d be forgiven for overlooking their presence) Remind Me Tomorrow is Van Etten’s most diverse album. Sure, there are pensive confessionals (“I Told You Everything”) and beat-heavy radio fare (“Comeback Kid”), but they’re dwarfed by powerhouses like “Seventeen,” which I could easily envision Bruce Springsteen adding to his repertoire – maybe it’s just in the Jersey girl’s DNA.

Also, the synths serve as serrated weapons far more often than dancefloor squiggles. “Jupiter 4”’s menacing drone recalls Psychic TV and is an ideal foil for Van Etten’s heartfelt vocal – her voice remains as expressive and haunting as any in the game. The fluttering effects on “Hands” sound like a helicopter landing behind enemy lines as Van Etten dryly intones, “I wanted to tell you what you wanted to hear/ but you told me to let it all out, dear.” I’m not sure who proffered that first advice, but this is exactly what I want to hear. The songs just get better and more surprising the deeper you dig – by closer “Stay” Sharon’s singing a quasi-lullaby atop something approaching a breakbeat, providing a graceful comedown to an amazing ride.

Van Etten has even found a way to refresh her lyrical arsenal. Having mined troubled relationships (mainly one troubled relationship) since her debut Because I Was in Love, Van Etten’s hard won domestic contentedness might be seen as jeopardizing her “edge.” Some have even noted a tone of optimism in Remind Me Tomorrow, but I’m not hearing it. “Seventeen” and “Comeback Kid” both come across as arguments with herself – on the former she wistfully recalls how “we used to be carefree,” and it’s far from clear she’d be keen to relive those days. At the song builds to a climax she shrieks “Afraid that you’re just like me!” with as harrowing a wail as we’ve heard from her, perhaps out of fear her son is destined to retrace her footsteps.

So, yeah – Remind Me Tomorrow is a mother.

Sharon Van Etten
Remind Me Tomorrow