The staggering ‘Your Love Is Killing Me’ – sample line: “You love me as you torture me” – roams, aches and soars atop a regimented percussive shuffle and an emphatically hammered piano, managing to be both euphorically beautiful and deeply moving.
However, there are nimbly shimmering soulful numbers on offer too, the luxurious ‘Nothing Will Change’ perhaps the highlight. The varying styles, sounds and even delivery suggest an artist still exploring the skin she lives in. It’s a truly fascinating listen.
Sharon Van Etten exquisitely crafts love songs which are the antithesis of sugar-coated love poetry. She rises above cliché and lays out her emotions in ways which are potentially cringe-worthy in the hands of a less incisive and adept songwriter.
“Break my legs so I won’t walk to you/ Burn my skin so I can’t feel you/ Stab my eye so I can’t see” suggests a protagonist. There are a lot of demons being exorcised here. Van Etten might have been duped by some guy in recent times or maybe she’s grappling with a new relationship. You get the impression, though, that she is, in fact, a strong woman taking charge of her life.
Musically, Van Etten’s voice is confident at high reaches, with just a semblance of the young Joan Baez in her ability to hold a beautiful melodic line, with strong harmonies. No quavering here. I wonder if the choir practice Van Etten had as a child honed those skills. The choir experience might also explain the carillon-like effect of hymnal keyboards and chiming piano (and rat-a-tat-tat militaristic drumming) in the crescendos I mentioned on 'Your Love is Killing Me'. <
Not everything is clamorous on Are We Here. There are lovely piano tinklers like 'I Love You But I’m Lost' with spare drumming and piano accompaniment. In fact, the anthemic approach I mentioned above is largely eschewed for more intimate soundscapes.
The sprightly but tinny drum-beats on 'Taking Chances' are a bit off-putting, but once again Van Etten reaches magnificent highs as the song reaches its lilting chorus. Its only a minor scuff mark on an otherwise glowing album.
Sharon Van Etten in Deutschland:
01.06.14 Köln, Studio 672
02.06.14 Berlin, Privatclub