Brooklyn singer-songwriter Sharon Van Etten returns to the fray with Are We There Yet, the delicate, bare and frustratingly question-mark-omitting follow-up to 2012’s downtrodden opus, Tramp. What’s immediately noticeable is the change in production. Gone are the billowing, embellished flourishes and blanketing drones that were the National guitarist Aaron Dessner’s handiwork on Tramp; instead, there’s a dainty, feather-light sparseness to the record that recalls Van Etten’s debut, Epic.

Are We There Yet is very much an album centred around love and loss, and the record’s telling titles do nothing to gloss over that, with deeply sentimental cuts such as “Your Love is Killing Me” and “I Love You But I’m Lost” doing nothing to hide their scorn, dripping with heartfelt mourning.
The melodies here are lofty and sweet, with tracks like the wistful, optimistic opener “Afraid of Nothing” giving off an endearing air of gigantic and glossy ‘80s love ballads. Stewart Lerman’s immaculate and sparkling production makes this a much bigger and cleaner record than her previous two offerings, even though the instrumentation is sparser and subtler. Her gorgeously macabre voice is the centrepiece of the album; wounded and wishful, she mourns everything from lost loves to lost time, a celebration of sadness.

While not as immediately gripping as Tramp, the album is a spectrally beautiful, slow-burning melancholy that will have you in tears before you realize what happened.

By Nick Laugher


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