If there was one thing that became evidently clear from 2012’s Tramp, aside from its melancholic beauty, it’s that Sharon Van Etten is a career musician. That might seem like a redundant statement, but it’s more so apparent with Van Etten than most.

The singer has successfully stuck to her own mold without dramatically switching things up. It’s done in a way that rewards the fans, but won’t convince any new ones into the fold.

Her fourth record, Are We There, dutifully stays within the songwriter’s sound. The slight electronic advancements are further enough away from what she’s done before to distinguish itself from its predecessors, and yet close enough to sound just as familiar as it needs to.

‘Our Love’ might be Van Etten’s only slight hiccup with its awkward repetitiveness, but it succinctly details the storytelling that informs her fourth LP. Are We There, as the listener could safely assume, details the one relationship by portraying the difficulties of love with a down-to-earth perspective that has always allowed the singer to sound so genuine and relatable.

While the record is not typically a ‘breakup album’ in an explicit manner like Lykke Li’s I Never Learn, immersing yourself in Are We There is a heart wrenching experience. It so eloquently and deftly deals with the harsh realities of being in love.

Van Etten sounds almost overcome as she ponders hopefully on the opening track, “I can’t wait until we’re afraid of nothing” and then at once defiantly announces that she’s ‘Taking Chances’ with her other half a song later.

Yet for all it’s worth, she’s defeated when she sings “break my legs so I won’t walk to you” on ‘Your Love Is Killing Me’ and finally admits it on ‘I Love You But I’m Lost’.  The collection is so intensely personal that it’s impossible not to feel her emotions reverberate through your own.

By the end she concedes that ‘Every Time The Sun Comes Up’ she’s in trouble and if anything it’s a perfect analogy for the songwriting she’s demonstrated in her career thus far.

When an artist can be this affecting throughout every one of her albums, why should she ever drastically change?

Listen to ‘Taking Chances’ from Are We There here:

Get unlimited access to the coverage that shapes our culture.
to Rolling Stone magazine
to Rolling Stone magazine