“Seventeen” – Sharon Van Etten

Sharon Van Etten used to be one of those artists I could count on to have two or three great songs per album. Full LP doses were always a little too much for my taste – folky, lovely, but samey.

I’d still get excited about the prospect of new SVE music, because those two or three great songs were consistently spectacular. Consider “One Day” and “Peace Signs” from 2010’s Epic; “Give Out” and “Leonard” from 2012’s Tramp; “Tarifa” and “Every Time the Sun Comes Up” from 2014’s Are We There. Her cutting lyrics, fiery vocal harmonies and instincts for painting vivid emotional pictures through simple acoustic chord progressions are magical when everything clicks.

Van Etten went mostly quiet for five years after Are We There (a surprise, since “Every Time the Sun Comes Up” had given her the biggest audience of her career). She gave birth to a son, she pursued a psychology degree, and she popped up in a recurring role on Netflix’s The OA. But no new music, until a single and video for a song called “Comeback Kid” were released in support of a 2019 LP, Remind Me Tomorrow

“Comeback Kid” is not folky-lovely-samey. For the first time, she ditched her maudlin folk vibe for synths, heavier drums, and full-on rock star delivery. The whole album was likewise a revelation – not just in terms of energy and variety of arrangements, but also stunning consistency in songwriting. All ten tracks are fantastic. 

To put that another way: in my Spotify 2019 Wrapped report, nine of my ten most listened to tracks this year were Sharon Van Etten. I never expected this.

Aside from the songs being great, I find hearing Sharon’s voice in a new, more alt-rock context kind of addictive. Where she sounds mournful in a folk setting, it’s now clear she has a much broader palette available. The best point of comparison I can think of is Thom Yorke, in that they share an uninhibited, almost operatic vocal gear where they’ll attack a certain note like they’re taking a flamethrower to a mosquito.

The consensus highlight on Remind Me Tomorrow is “Seventeen.” I think they’re all highlights, but I’m not going to argue with that pick. Kyla and I saw Sharon at the Beacon Theatre toward the beginning of her tour, and after playing “Seventeen” and seeing the crowd’s reaction, she had to take a moment to compose herself. “I think that may be the first time people have stood up for my music,” she said, to more applause. “I’m still growing.”