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Pop Filter Hot Pick: Sharon Van Etten and her volatile love

Sharon Van Etten plays Mr. Smalls Thurs., June 19 at 8PM. Tickets available here.

Sharon Van Etten decided to take the reins as producer on her fourth and thus far most accomplished album, Are We There. Over the course of 12 songs, she managed to exhibit an incredible sense of composition and atmosphere, turning her usual songwriting subjects—the inherent volatility of love and loss—into gorgeous, immersive meditations that feel both lived-in and palpably real.

On her previous record, 2012's Tramp, she distinguished herself by delivering songs with an urgent energy that colored even the quietest moments with a desperate yearning. Are We There transforms that urgency into cautious, crescendoing hope. 

Track one, “Afraid of Nothing,” ruminates on the fear of giving yourself to another person and showcases Van Etten’s evocative lyricism that routinely sounds and reads like the clipped, most potent lines of a lost novel.

“I need you to be afraid of nothing,” she croons as fluttering classical strings and subtle ambient drone swell in the background. It’s a moment, like many others on Are We There, that’s greater than the sum of its parts simply because Van Etten is thoughtfully deploying her songwriting, composition and production talent in perfectly measured doses. 

“Your Love is Killing Me” is yet another track where every tool in Van Etten’s box, from the reverb laden percussion section to the heartbreaking vocals, works to create indelible sketches of the emotional fall out from the struggle to find, keep and nourish love.

If Are We There is any indication, her show this Thursday will be a slow burn not necessarily suited to the occasionally murky caverns of Mr. Smalls main room. Regardless, being able to witness Van Etten, whose growth as an artist over four albums is immense, playing her best work to date, is alone worth the price of admission.
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