Track one of this comeback-of-sorts from Sharon Van Etten bites the tune from ‘Sympathy For The Devil‘, slows it into a beautiful heart rendering ode to death and is the funereal high point of an album that, for all its willingness to explore its sonic boundaries, more often settles for synth-inflected reworkings of an alt.rock back catalogue… It’s telling that the singer’s musical references for this record are listed as Suicide, Portishead and Nick Cave, although Remind Me Tomorrow is a classic example of the result being rather less than the composite. The pulsing electronica that takes precedent over her trademark guitar style registers little more than as an interesting listen as she goes through the motions of being Sharon Van Etten in 2019. Lead tracks ‘Comeback Kid’ and ‘Jupiter 4’ are, by turns, a little more flamboyant like Kate Bush or dour and darkly trippy, the Lana del Rey influence rubbing off on her and not the other way around this time. However, the two tracks only highlight the realities of life with Remind Me Tomorrow (itself a throwaway phrase about how her priorities have changed), “written in stolen time, scraps of hours wedged between myriad endeavours”.
Instead of the heavyweight influences cited this is an album often weighing in more like a straw-weight PJ Harvey or Florence Welch without the genial choruses and grandstand theatrics. The syncopated War on Drugs design of recent social media fave ‘Seventeen’ is a highlight as much for the Springsteen-like unfurling of layers of familial narrative and melody that entwine like the best of her early releases, and the following track ‘Malibu’, also good in its genteel Americana, but are the only ones to come near to either the aforementioned opener, or anything off 2012’s breakthrough, Tramp. On ‘Hands’ she summons her best latter-day Bjork, and Lana del Rey again on ‘No One’s Easy To Love’ but without either’s self-confidence or actual ability to craft something contemporary and/or listenable. Third person talk like, “glimmer moods illuminating the edges of her music” in the PR bumf is undoubtedly good copy but woefully backed up by lyrics such as, “you once asked me ‘is your father a man’, I should ask you the same” (on ‘No One’s Easy To Love’) and more general overused themes of jealousy and longing (on ‘Shadow’ and throughout).
John Congleton produces (everyone from Okkervil River to Earl Sweatshirt and go-to guy for an original creation) but merely adds a twist of black pepper to the uninspiring soup he’s been given. This trend for slightly errant singers of a certain popularity to add a bit of squiggly electronica and lyrical whataboutery in order to obtain critical immunity does nothing for these ears when I have feasted them on Neko Case and Mitski over the last year. Which is why, if I were you, I would just program tracks one, six and seven and be done with the rest of this album.
Remind Me Tomorrow is released on 18th January through Jagjaguwar.