“I need you to be afraid of nothing,” Sharon Van Etten sings on “Afraid of Nothing,” the opening track from her latest album, Are We There. Later, she repeats the sentiment differently: “I can’t wait ’til we’re afraid of nothing.”
But, will we ever get to that place?
Her words on many of these songs are declarations that say, “this is what I need from you to keep going.” The destination is not guaranteed. These songs are fragile, sincere, and they are glimpses into Van Etten’s life that, I’m assuming, has had many peaks and valleys in the last few years.
“Tarifa,” while trying to recall happier times, is soaked in resignation. “Can’t remember,” Van Etten sings. “No, I can’t remember anything at all.” This is less intense than “Your Love Is Killing Me,” which stabs your soul with regret and guilt; it’s a torturous song that gushes blood, leaving a volcanic mess in your mind. Yet, it’s a catastrophe that makes us better, stronger for hearing it. A lovely disaster that heals.
Van Etten’s music is like that — unflinching, honest, uncaring of your mood or comfort zone. Her all-or-nothing voice changes directions so many times that it’s sometimes hard to focus on the words themselves. With some clarity, you realize what you have: an album killing for an opportunity to be understood. Jason Gonulsen / Grade: A