Written by Myf Warhurst

Arts

Open Your Ears! Storytelling with an emotional wallop

Each week, Myf Warhurst shines a spotlight on women who should be peppering your playlist. This week, Sharon Van Etten packs an emotional wallop and isn’t afraid to visit your bathroom.

Sharon van Etten

Photograph by Brigitte Sire

TV On The Radio’s Kyp Malone is a big fan of Sharon Van Etten. Early on in her career he said she was arresting; that “she’s been silencing rooms in drunken bars for a long time”. Thing is, Van Etten doesn’t go about her business in a loud, noisy, or brash way. She silences her audience with seemingly simple, unaffected lyrics that come at you gently but have a big emotional wallop waiting in the tail.

Van Etten has released four albums since 2009 and toured with the likes of The National and Nick Cave. This year, she released her proudly self-produced album, Are We There (her third album was produced by The National’s Aaron Dessner), which sees her yearning, gripping storytelling at full force.

There’s an honesty to Van Etten that takes her up a notch on the talented singer-songwriter scale. She sings of her fear of love and the desolation of a dying relationship on this new record. Though bleak it’s balanced with humour. There aren’t many other songwriters who can get away with a line like, “I washed your dishes but I shit in your bathroom.” It’s a joke that she and her band came up with in rehearsal, but it stayed on the record. Few could carry it off with the ease and honesty that Van Etten does.

Sharon Van Etten lets you in on her life as she questions herself and her choices, but never gives so much information as to seem self-obsessed. This latest album is gorgeously raw, slightly brittle, and still endlessly intriguing.

With this album, Sharon Van Etten might be asking if we’re there yet, but the lady herself definitely seems to have just arrived.

Are We There is out now on Jagjaguar Records

Sharon Van Etten is back in the UK in April: see www.sharonvanetten.com for tour dates

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Written by Myf Warhurst

Myfanwy Warhurst is a broadcaster at Double J radio (ABC Australia), TV presenter, Guardian columnist, music nut and general layabout.