Review Summary: I wanna be myself
The word catharsis is transformed - no, given entirely new meaning, redefined - in the work of Sharon Van Etten. Her intuitive understanding of emotional and sonic dynamics, whether it's a produced pop song or a stark acoustic ballad, is matched only by her towering cathedral of a voice and knack for curating and sequencing capital-a Albums. One of the most consistent yet surprising artists of her generation, Van Etten's music is packaged with a unique feeling of wanderlust which ensures she never makes the same album twice. We've Been Going About This All Wrong
bears many hallmarks of Van Etten's previous work, in particular her masterpieces Are We There
, but is entirely its own album through and through. It's another reflection in the endless hall of mirrors I call her discography, fascinatingly warped and distorted in a way distinct from all the previous, but just as brilliant, intense and lovely as the rest.
We've Been Going About This All Wrong
distinguishes itself as a statement record before the music has even started playing. The rollout saw Van Etten drop two singles – the propulsive 80s throwback "Porta" and the lowkey "Used to It" - only to announce that neither would be featured on the album, a ten-track song cycle from which no songs were previewed prior to release. This choice and the more reserved sound of ...All Wrong
are the markers which call back to the more baroque and thoughtful Are We There
, instead of the bolder and more scattershot Remind Me Tomorrow
, though that album's alt-pop affluence is still felt in the out-and-out banger "Mistakes". The tempered slowburns of "Born" and "Come Back" erupt into climaxes as powerful as anything from the progressive-leaning epic
, while the duo of "Darkness Fades" and "Darkish" harken back to her earliest sound as a lone voice over acoustic guitar.
In essence, it plays as a retrospective look back at Van Etten's journey through the musical landscape and the emotional arc which accompanied it, without ever feeling like a self-congratulatory greatest hits exercise. We've Been Going About This All Wrong
reflects on the darkest moments of her earliest work with a newfound sense of confidence and control fully discovered in the Remind Me Tomorrow
era. The spectre of an abusive relationship hangs over much of Van Etten's work up to Are We There
, tempering even that album's loveliest pop moments - "Our Love", "Taking Chances" - with a very real and uncomfortable darkness. It may be an overstatement to say that ...All Wrong
is a complete therapeutic exercise, but it certainly examines some of that trauma from the eyes of adulthood. As "Born" builds up to an exorcism of emotion with some of the most powerful vocals the artist has put to tape, she sings "one night, I walked into a situation that I could have avoided / but it turned into something my babe noticed ain't right". The meditative album closer "Far Away" seems to stumble upon some kind of acceptance, acting as a tranquil sequel to the vitriolic "Every Time the Sun Comes Up" nearly a decade on. Van Etten may be singing to many people about many things as she repeats "long gone, I'll see you far away", but the sense of peace the melody radiates speaks for itself. Perhaps we're the ones who've been going about this all wrong, defining the artist by her darkest moments, but Sharon Van Etten is ready to step into the light.