Review Summary: delusions of candor
Every now and then I open messenger to an offhand observation or inconsequential inquiry from a friend I haven’t seen since high school. A “have you seen x recently?” unfurls into a discussion that, in hindsight, has picked up from some indeterminate point in time – not the beginning, not the end, but a spot that constantly shifts across two intertwined timelines. It’s a weird feeling, to converse with someone as if you’ve not been separated by a chasm that’s at least three years wide, and it evokes a dissonance in me: on the one hand I yearn for that part of my life back -- the one shackled by rigid routine and allocated social periods, and on the other, I can’t even imagine being anyone other than the person I am now. Does Sharon Van Etten feel that way every time she looks in a mirror?
It’s at this juncture, between who we are and who we were, where the album sits, stirring, shifting in its bones as it traces its own lineage of pain and triumph. On Remind Me Tomorrow
, the two exist in uncomfortably close proximity, and by letting this happen it often feels as though Van Etten is pinpointing the quiet sorrows drifting through crowded rooms. What I mean is that when I replay Comeback Kid
for the nth time I tend to let myself be subsumed by the mess: I draw up, for instance, the backstory of a crumbled relationship even though the songstress plasters it against an indomitable drum pattern and walls of wailing synths. And then we stumble onto Jupiter 4
: a moment that cuts out all that background noise, and the myriad humdrum conversations, focusing in on all the tension and panic which shadows them.
I let it happen. A little relieved, a little terrified. Remind Me Tomorrow
is an uncomfortable experience at times because it presents an impasse and, centre frame: a woman mapping out which path to commit to in real time. If Are We There
was the fear of waking up in company, this record here is the tumult and uncertainty of waking up alone -- learning, once again, to exist with and rely on oneself outside the parameters of a relationship. Which isn’t to say that Van Etten is actually lonely: No One’s Easy To Love
pushes her into those same corners as, say, Taking Chances
, but now she is guarded, wary -- grounding new loves in the wreckage of old ones so as to not lose herself completely in someone else all over again. And that’s what we’ve learned about love since Are We There
; artificial love is lopsided, tenable only through the magnetism of a status quo. Here: ”our love’s so real”
This is the kind of record that never loses sight of a desire to learn and change. Whenever Remind Me Tomorrow
circles in on starry-eyed nostalgia -- that vile, misleading thing -- it rearranges the fabric of its composition and converts idealism to retrospect. The synths harken back to potential nostalgic hotspots (which, for my money, is attained by writing songs lined with the same kind of grandiosity that Darkness era Bruce Springsteen had) but they’re tainted, coffee-stained and made into some ironic joke by impassioned and desperate vocal performances – signalling how memories corrupt and fade upon their overlap with the present. That voice, the same one that becomes the cynosure of a new cycle of veneration every time Van Etten releases music, carries that weight and cynicism of the past, but also, somehow, the breeziness and optimism of the future she has been working towards. I can scarcely believe how real Seventeen’s “I know what you’re gonna be”
hook feels every time it cracks open the song during its latter half. In its desperation it’s revealed as an act of futility. I think it’s one of the most impactful moments in her discography. And then Malibu’s “just a couple of dudes who don’t give a ***”
scene is recalled with the faintest upturn of the corner of the mouth and, for a second, that levity provides the smallest moment of clarity, the past dissolving into the future.
Above all, this sometimes subtle (sometimes not-so) transition into hopefulness feels hard-won. The record at large is both an end and a beginning -- reducing terrifying, looming figures to faceless lessons, killed off like extras by the inexorable forward rally of time. In front of us, though: different mistakes to be made, more songs that flail in such a way that it looks like they’re flying, more tiny fragments of days that, in hindsight, will inflate and reveal themselves as life-altering. To these things Van Etten stays close. On Remind Me Tomorrow
, it's in a way that is honest and true to who she is now, and far away from who she was then.