The standard currency of rock and pop music has long been heartbreak and loss, misery and despair. It is the tinder for some of the greatest songs in the history of pop music; the themes of broken hearts and lost love are universal - who amongst us has not trodden that particular path and found comfort in the music that seems to articulate the pain in such a neat and concise way.
Brooklyn based singer-songwriter Sharon Van Etten knows a thing or two about heartbreak and loss - fourth album Are We There is an impressive and emotionally draining collection of songs, charting the breakup of a relationship in raw, unflinching detail. Van Etten has long been respected by her peers, and has worked with artists like The National and The Antlers in the past. Are We There should see her stock rise considerably - it's the kind of record that makes an immediate impression with its startling intimacy and confessional tone.
Van Etten is capable of summoning up a maelstrom of emotion - 'Your Love Is Killing Me' stuns with the violence of the words: 'Break my legs so I won't walk to you| Cut my tongue so I can't talk to you'. The gorgeously bleak and sparse 'I Love You But I'm Lost' showcases Van Etten's striking vocals at their best while the smooth, feline grace of 'Taking Chances' makes an early impression. The songs are structured pretty conventionally with some nice textured electronic elements adding a little colour to the standard drums, bass, guitar and piano instrumentation. But it's Van Etten's voice and words we are drawn to throughout; it's a richly dynamic element of these songs that commands centre stage at all times.
The title of closing track 'Every Time The Sun Comes Up' may offer up the promise of ending the album on a rosy, more hopeful note but the chorus of 'every time the sun comes up, I'm in trouble' dispels that notion pretty quickly.
Are We There is an album that may well go on to be a career defining best for a unique and uncompromising artist at the very peak of her talents. It is a bleakly beautiful, cathartic exploration of what is left behind when love breaks down once and for all.
Review by Paul Page | FOUR STARS