In the almost five years since Sharon Van Etten released Are We There, a lot has happened to the singer songwriter – she went back to school, had a baby and guest-starred on the shows The OA, and even appeared in the Twin Peaks revival. Needless to say, she had a lot going on that wasn’t music-related.
Remind Me Tomorrow arrives as the next luminous chapter in Van Etten’s catalogue, a record that eschews a majority of the guitar and piano that’s been her signature for so long in favor of dark, pulsating synthesizers, drones, and organ. She also paired with producer John Congleton, (known for his work with St. Vincent and David Byrne, among others) to help shape these songs. The result is an instant classic that perfectly charts Sharon Van Etten’s growth as an artist.
The new tone is set pretty quickly with “I Told You Everything,” where Van Etten sings over single, insistent piano chords one at a time while a drone grows louder, threatening to envelope voice and instrument. It doesn’t. Instead, it breaks away into a slow, thumping drum. The sound is sparse, but not in a way you’d expect from Van Etten. It still feels nakedly emotional, but not naked. The environment communicates an absence personally, physically, and spiritually.
“No One’s Easy to Love” banks on dancing keys and a propulsive lift; there’s a moment where she just wordlessly harmonizes, and it’s completely divine. “Memorial Day” is an exercise in the abstract, and it’s haunting. It’s the kind of glacial ballad you might hear Thom Yorke finding himself lost in.
But then then there’s the excellent three-song run of “Comeback Kid,” “Jupiter 4,” and “Seventeen,” which are, no surprise, three of the songs that were previously released. They’re a representation of what’s best about Sharon Van Etten. “Comeback Kid” is bombast masked with a palpable intimidation. The drums are insistent; the synths prowl and punch, and Van Etten delivers one of the titular with commination: “Yeah, you’re the comeback kid/Let me look at you/Then look away.”
Is “Jupiter 4” the most straightforward pop song she’s ever written? Technically, yes. Prior to its appearance on Remind Me Tomorrow, it appeared on the album This Time by Van Etten’s collaborator Donna Missal. Van Etten’s original version, found here, is in deep contrast to Missal’s; the tempo is slowed down with distant vocals overlayed on a menacing, spooky bed of synths. It’s an impossibly beautiful song, brilliant in its construction, soundscape, and the sadness of Van Etten’s vocals.
“Seventeen” very clearly is her love letter to New York City: “Down beneath the ashes and the stone/sure of what I’ve lived and have known/I see you so uncomfortably alone/I wish I could show you how much you’ve grown.” That feeling of moving on from something you once viewed with an idealistic eye, using it as a tentpole for marking progress, is entirely universal.
There are many more moments on Remind Me Tomorrow that are worth writing about, but perhaps no better representative of that. It’s an album documenting Sharon Van Etten now, as a an artist, a mother, someone who has seen things and done stuff. It’s a wonderfully constructed piece from an artist who has always shared her whole heart. It’s no different here, but the palette she uses now is one that has shades deeper than anyone could possibly imagine.