Sharon Van Etten decided to take time away from music and her focus instead shifted between becoming a new mother, acting in the oddest of TV shows (Twin Peaks and The OA) and studying to become a counsellor.
It seems as though freeing her mind up from the day job reinvigorated Van Etten’s musical outlook. Remind Me Tomorrow is a radical reinvention of her sound, to the point where at last half of the album is so startlingly removed from the singer-songwriter’s usual style that is almost feels like a hoax.
Van Etten has carefully and wondrously started again in many respects. Her beautiful, gauzy folk rock is still occasionally found hidden in dark corners but Etten is accompanied by synths, beats and piano instead of the usual multi-layered harmonies and guitars. It’s an initially disorientating, shockingly sharp-edged reintroduction to Van Etten’s musical return.
A lot of the themes on Remind Me Tomorrow remain the same for Sharon Van Etten and link straight back around to her precious work: relationships between friends, lovers and oneself dominate the album’s 10 songs.
‘Comeback Kid’, the record’s lead single and probably the most extreme sonic reinvention on display here. Etten’s first proper pop song, it’s also one of two tracks that see her looking back to when she was a child. This introspection is undoubtedly a consequence of Van Etten’s new role as a parent.
‘Seventeen’ sees the singer having a conversation with her younger self. It’s a perfect example of Etten’s decision here to allow her songwriting skills to really gleam and cut a straight line right to the front and centre of a track when before these melodies were more obstructed and blurred.
John Congleton can really bring a cohesive and glamorous aesthetic to his production work as collaborations with Anna Calvi, St Vincent and Goldfrapp can testify. Etten has said that only he could interpret and deliver what she could hear for these songs and help to push her far out into areas that she has never explored before.
There are aspects of his diamond sharp, modern-gothic style here, certainly – particularly on the thrumming, multi-layered synths and retro Siouxsie Sioux vocal tribute of ‘Comeback Kid’ and the scuzzy and languorous snarl of ‘You Shadow’.
Elsewhere, though, Etten sings lonely love songs set on a soundstage of a drone dominated war zone (‘Juniper 4’) and stark confessionals with only a bar piano and trip hop beats from 1994 for company (‘I Told You Everything’).
Remind Me Tomorrow is Sharon Van Etten as she is right now with a new page turned and brilliantly, fearlessly looking forward.