Are We There by Sharon Van Etten
This album marks the first time I’ve really taken notice of Sharon Van Etten. I have heard her music before, and her previous album, Tramp, was produced by Aaron Dessner of my beloved The National. For whatever reason, her music just hadn’t clicked. That all changed when I heard “Your Love Is Killing Me” from this new album. It is a complete gut-punch of a song, a narrative of a toxic relationship from the viewpoint of one lover who knows she shouldn’t stay, but keeps coming back. “Break my legs so I won’t walk to you / Cut my tongue so I can’t talk to you / Burn my skin so I can’t feel you / Stab my eyes so I can’t see” Van Etten sings. It’s a completely naked declaration of emotion, one that might not work in different hands. Van Etten’s powerful, expressive voice is the key element here. When she howls these words, her vibrato quivering, you feel every note of it.
The rest of the album hovers around the themes of a failed love affair, but not every song is so bleak. The Album ends with “Every Time The Sun Comes Up,” a sort of breezy catharsis of a song that closes the album with a note of humor and comfortable groove. I continue to be a sucker for a well-executed sad song, and this album is full of them. I will definitely be paying more attention to Sharon Van Etten from here on out.
Familiars by The Antlers
The Antlers’ 2009 album Hospice is a devastating listen. It chronicles the demise of an unhealthy relationship through the narrative of a hospice worker and a difficult patient. Like I said, devastating. But it is, also, thoroughly beautiful throughout. Frontman Peter Silberman’s delicate falsetto is perfectly suited to delivering his raw, wounded lyrics in a way that strikes right at the heart, without veering into over-sentimentality.
Needless to say, I loved that record. I was worried, however, about how a band would follow such a monolithic slab of emotion as that record. Happily, their next album Burst Apart (sadly, neither album is available through TSCPL, but are both worth requesting through InterLibrary Loan) maintained the grand sweep of their sound and intimate quality of their lyrics, while expanding their focus even more. It doesn’t leave you emotionally drained by the end of a listen. Familiars, their latest, expands that focus even more. It finds the band really stretching out musically—the tracks here are necessarily long, given plenty of room to breathe and grow—adding to their musical palette pianos and horns provided by multi-instrumentalist Darby Cicci. The vocals and lyrics are as on point as ever, weaving a loose narrative of doppelgangers and coming to terms with the past. The somewhat airy quality of the music is grounded in some very concrete imagery, such as on “Revisited” where Silberman sings “When some unfamiliar faces came to shop in our old house / I didn’t bother trying to stop them until they emptied it out / I was standing by the front door, stuffing cash in a jar, taking payment for our failures.” This is an album that probably requires a little time to grow on you. It does not demand your attention, but will reward it greatly if it is given.
Have you listened to either of these albums? What did you think?