Are We There is singer-songwriter Sharon Van Etten’s fourth album. Released on May 27th 2009, on Jaguarwar, Are We There was released to widespread critical acclaim. Critics hailed Are We There, the finest album of Sharon’s four album career. It surpassed everything that had come before.

Sharon’s recording career began in May 2009. That’s when she released her debut album Because I Was In Love. However, her career began back in 2005. That’s when Kyp Malone of TV On The Radio encouraged Sharon to follow her dream and embark upon a career in music.

By then, Sharon was twenty-four. She was born in Clinton, New Jersey in 1981 and was the middle child in a family of five. Her parents were music lovers, who had a large vinyl collection. This was part of Sharon’s musical education. 

So was singing in her school choir and studying clarinet, violin and piano at Yantacaw Elementary School. After that, Sharon headed to North Hunterdon High School. Sharon became a member of school choir and started taking singing more seriously. During this period, Sharon taught herself to play guitar and began writing songs. When Sharon left school, she headed to Middle Tennessee State University.

At Middle Tennessee State University Sharon studied recording. After a year, she dropped out of University. For the next five years, Sharon worked at at the Red Rose. It’s a coffee and record shop, and music venue in Murfreesboro, Tennessee. During this period, Sharon continued to write songs. However, Sharon never sung these songs.

There was a reason for this. Her then boyfriend was constantly telling Sharon her songs were terrible. As a result, Sharon’s confidence was badly affected. Then after six years, she turned her back on this abusive relationship and moved back home to New Jersey. It was the best thing she ever did.

Now back living with her parents, Sharon’s confidence returned. She realised her songs were good. To make some money, Sharon got a job in a shop selling wines and spirits. This allowed her to save enough money to move to Brooklyn, New York in 2005.

It was in Brooklyn, New York in 2005, that Sharon met Kyp Malone of TV On The Radio. Sharon was  a friend of Kyp’s brother. After one of Kyp’s shows, she hand him a CD of her music. When he heard Sharon’s music, straight away, he was won over. So, he encouraged Sharon to follow her dream and embark upon a career in music. Kyp also played Sharon’s CD on NPR’s All Songs Considered show. After this, Sharon’s career began in earnest.

With the music industry changing dramatically, Sharon realised she had to market herself properly. She set up her own website and sold her music directly to her fans. Sharon also sold t-shirts and postcards that she designed. Importantly, she was building up a database of people interested in her music. To help her understand the music industry better, Sharon got a job in a publicist. This was the final part of her music education. Now her recording career could begin.

May 2009 saw Sharon released her debut album Because I Was in Love. It was released on the Language of Stone label. Critics were won over by the eleven songs on Because I Was in Love. Its minimalist arrangements were the perfect showcase for a talented singer-songwriter. Sharon Van Etten looked like having a big future ahead of her.

Sharon released her sophomore album Epic in September 2010. Recorded at Miner Street Studios in Philly, Epic was a game-changer. Released to critical acclaim, Sharon Van Etten’s music was finding a wider audience. Especially when Bon Iver, Dave Alvin and The National covered Love More, the song which closed Epic. Sharon’s career was on an upward spiral.

Between the release of Epic in September 2010 and Sharon’s third album Tramp in February 2012, Sharon had been busy playing live. She’d also been busy recording her third album Tramp. On Tramp, shorn collaborated with Zach Condon of Beirut, Jenn Wasner, Wye Oak, Julianna Barwick, Thomas Bartlet and Aaron Dessner, whose studio Tramp was recorded in. The result was the most successful album of Sharon’s career. Tramp reached number seventy-five in the US Billboard 200. Sharon had come a long way in three years.

In the two years since the release of Tramp, Sharon has spent time touring and writing her fourth album Are We There. She penned a total of eleven tracks. They were recorded at two studios. Nine songs were recorded at Hobo Sound, in Weehawken and the other two tracks recorded at the legendary Electric Lady Studios in New York. Accompanying Sharon were her band, plus a string and woodwind section.

For the recording of Are We There, Sharon’s band included a rhythm section of drummer and percussionist Zeke Hutchins, David Hartley who played bass, guitar, synth bass, baritone guitar and guitarists Doug Keith, Marisa Anderson, Adam Granduciel and Jonathan Meiburg, who also played organ. They were joined by Stewart Lerman and Jacob C. Morrison piano, organ, Mickey Free supplied the beats and Mary Lattimore played harp. Stuart Bogie supplied woodwinds and strings came courtesy of Peter Broderick and Heather Woods Broderick, who also played organ and added backing vocals with Jana Hunter and Little Isidore. Sharon played guitars, piano, bass, organ, synths, drums and Omnichord. Once the eleven songs were recorded, Are We There was ready for release in May 2014.

Released in May 2014, Are We There was seen as the best album of Sharon’s career. Released to critical acclaim, Are We There picked up where Tramp left of. Some critics are already forecasting that Are We There will be on the list of best albums of 2014. Will that be the case?

Afraid of Nothing opens Are We There. Just meandering guitars and deliberate stabs of piano combine. They create a wistful backdrop for Sharon’s vocal. Her vocal is tender, but full of pain and misery. Just like the arrangement, it grows in power, becoming needy and despairing. It becomes akin to a cathartic outpouring of grief during this tale of love lost.

A rounded, beefy bass joins beats and sci-fi synths on Taking Chances. They keep the tempo slow before Sharon’s dreamy, ethereal vocal makes its entrance. Quickly, it’s submerged amidst the rocky arrangement. Searing guitars and pounding drums almost smother the vocal. Before long, Sharon takes centre-stage. Her vocal is seductive and dreamy, as she encourages her partner to keep “Taking Chances.” 

Swathes of screaming guitars accompany her. They’re the perfect foil for her vocal. Later, washes of Hammond organ replace her vocal. They’re a familiar sound on Sharon’s previous albums. They set the scene for more of the ethereal delights of Sharon’s vocal, as rock, ambient, folk and indie melt into one.

Your Love is Killing Me is another relationship song, which deals with a troubled relationship that’s on its last legs. For Sharon this must bring back memories of the year abusive relationship she was in. As a result, the lyrics are very personal. She’s been there and survived to tell the tale. Without doubt, she’s an inspiration to other women in similar situations. As she delivers the lyrics sometimes, her vocal is bereft of emotion. It’s as if she’s been worn down. So much so, that she’s immune to the pain and abuse. Other times, pain, anger and frustration shine through. Washes of synths and keyboards join a rocky rhythm section and harmonies. Together, Sharon lays bare her soul and in doing so, offers hope to others in a smiler situation.

Our Love has a much more understated and mellow sound. That’s despite the presence of a drum machine. It adds hypnotic beats to the washes of synths and reverberating guitar. They accompany Sharon’s tender, hopeful vocal. So do handclaps, that add to the mesmeric sound. However, it’s Sharon’s tender, ethereal vocal that captivates and has you spellbound throughout this beautiful track.

Tarifa has a minimalist arrangement. A droning space age synth floats in, to be replaced by a carefully strummed guitar. It’s the perfect accompaniment to Sharon’s vocal. It features some of Sharon’s best lyrics. They’re about a relationship gone wrong. With feeling, frustration and sadness, Sharon sings: “tell me when, tell me when is this over, chewed you out, chewed me out when I’m stupid, I don’t wanna, everyone else pales.” It’s as if they can live together, can’t live apart. Sharon delivers them like she’s lived and experienced them. Quite simply, she brings meaning and emotion to the lyrics to this powerful song.

I Love You But I’m Lost is another song about a relationship gone wrong. Against a minimalist arrangement, Sharon sings the lyrics from the point of view of a woman who try as she may, her relationship isn’t working. She delivers the lyrics with power and passion. Pain and frustration fill her vocal. This is reflected in the arrangement. Stabs of piano and pounding drums provide a dramatic backdrop for another soul-baring vocal from Sharon Van Etten.

Ominous drums, droning synth, reverberating guitars and stabs of piano set the scene for Sharon on You Know Me Well. Dramatic describes the arrangement. Fuzzy guitars, melodic keyboards accompany Sharon as she delivers lyrics that are tinged with existentialist angst. Her vocal features equal parts power, passion and pain. One minute she questions, the next she’s encouraging the character in the song to find their true self. The lyrics are some of Sharon’s best. They also demonstrate that Sharon is one of the most talented songwriters of recent years.

Dark synths and plodding drums combine on Break Me. A plucked harp accompanies Sharon’s vocal. There’s a reason for the darkness, Sharon is remembering her abusive relationship. Her vocal is a mixture of emotion and fear as she sings, “he can break me, with one hand to my head.” Later, she sings: “I am writing about him home, I am, I am writing a song for him, he can break me, with one hand to my, head.” By now, you can imagine a scared young woman, far from home, trapped in an abusive relationship. You fear for her, and empathise with her plight. Sharon makes this scenario seem very real, and bravely, tackles the horrors of an abusive relationship.

Hope fills Sharon’s vocal on Nothing Will Change. Accompanied by a thoughtful, subtle arrangement,  a hopeful Sharon sings: “I will reach you, I will meet you, on your street, I won’t let you down.” Deep down, Sharon’s optimism turns to pessimism as she sings: “nothing will change.” Despite nothing changing, this is still one of the highlights of Are We There. Quite simply, it’s a beautiful song.

I Know sees Sharon accompanied by just a piano. This is no bad thing. It allows her heartfelt vocal to take centre-stage. She combines emotion, frustration and sadness. Memories come back. Not all good. You wonder if that’s why Sharon sometimes, almost pounds the piano. Her vocal sees Sharon attempt to cleanse herself of memories, because she sings: “all I ever wanted was you.”

Every Time the Sun Comes Up closes Are We There. A chiming guitar and beats combine with a probing bass accompany Sharon. Her vocal is slow, full of emotion and wistful. Especially when she sings: “Every Time the Sun Comes Up I’m in trouble.” Remembering the night before, memories come flooding back. Again, Sharon’s lyrics have a cinematic quality.  Just like Sharon’s vocal, they’re among the best on the album.

That’s the story of Are We There, Sharon Van Etten’s fourth album, Are We There. It was released to widespread critical acclaim on May 27th 2009, on Jaguarwar. Critics hailed Are We There, the finest album of Sharon’s four album career. It they sadim surpassed everything that had come before. They were right. 

Are We Right is the best album of Sharon Van Etten’s four album career. It was produced by Sharon with a little help from producer Stewart Lerman. Gone is the indie sound of her early albums. Replacing it are lush strings, wistful woodwinds. mesmeric drums and soulful, multi-tracked harmonies. They provide the perfect backdrop to Sharon’s hushed vocals as she lays bare her soul on Are We There.

During the eleven songs on Are We There, Sharon relives the hurt of a troubled relationship. The relationship lasted six long years. By the time Sharon had the confidence to pack her bags and walk, her confidence was crushed. She was down, but far from out.

Having returned home, Sharon rebuilt her shattered confidence. Gradually, she realised the songs she’d written were good. Eventually, she plucked up the confidence to record a debut and make her live debut. Since then, a star has been born. Four albums later, Sharon Van Etten is enjoying commercial success and critical acclaim. She’s won over audiences on both sides of the Atlantic with her unique brand of understated folk rock. After three albums, her fourth album, Are We There, is a game-changer.

During Are We There, Sharon continues to reinvent her music. The eleven songs are best described as a mixture of folk rock and indie rock. With a tight, talented band for company on Are We There, Sharon lays bare her soul. She tells you about her troubled relationship. You’re privy to the six troubled years she spent having every grain of confidence squeezed out of her. Sharon was traumatised. Fear, frustration, pain and hurt were constant companions. She couldn’t seem to do wrong for right. Often, she was left wondering what she’d done wrong. Always, Sharon feared ““he can break me, with one hand to my head.” You can’t help but empathise with her plight. Nobody should’ve to endure what she did. That’s no way for anyone to live. So it’s no surprise Sharon left that relationship traumatised. Now, well on her way to putting those traumatic years behind her, Sharon used her experiences for Are We There.

Hopefully, Are We There will prove an inspiration to other woman who find themselves in a similar situation to Sharon Van Etten. Thankfully, she survived the hurt and pain to tell the tale on  Are We There, It’s without doubt, the best album of Sharon Van Etten’s career. Are We There is also a cathartic and soulful confessional where Sharon Van Etten lays bare her soul for all to see. 



Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: