Sharon Van Etten’s sixth album – ‘We’ve Been Going About This All Wrong’ – is a record designed to be listened to in its entirety. None of the songs on it were shared ahead of the release and they find Sharon musing on how all the key moments in life – parenthood, partnerships, the past and the precarious state of politics – can be both terrifying and transformative, but also how chinks of light are always to be found whenever things get ‘Darkish’…
Opening in stirring style with ‘Darkness Fades’ – mixing short blasts of alt folk guitar with tenderness and Sharon’s floating vocals – there’s emotion in her voice as she explains: ‘It’s been a while since I held you close. Been a while since we touched.’ This soon evolves into a sound more akin to Arcade Fire with military drums, majestic vibes and the repeated mantra of ‘I’m dreaming of a place’. ‘Home to Me’ follows with glitchy drumbeats and piano notes. A slow-burning and glacial piece all about Sharon’s son and the fear/anxiety that every parent faces as their children grow up and gain independence – ‘You come home to me’ – it’s a powerful piece, especially while listening as the father of a just-turned six-month-old.
‘I’ll Try’ is dark and brooding as Sharon talks about her life coming undone, while ‘Anything’ takes the album into a more traditional guitar sound with a theme of insomnia and the thoughts it inspires: ‘I didn’t feel anything’. Sharon looks back on where she came from on ‘Born’ – a poignant piece that offers nods to both Radiohead and Bjork with subtle elements of post rock also making an appearance – before ‘Headspace’ seamlessly follows with a stark warning: ‘Baby, don’t turn your back on me’. ‘Come Back’ has an altogether quieter sound that recalls Sharon’s earliest material with its confessional and almost gospel tones, while ‘Darkish’ reminded us of Sinead O’Connor – one of Sharon’s heroes – with its delicate nature and plea to: ‘Tell me this one thing’.
There’s a bounciness in the opening to ‘Mistakes’ – ‘Seen my body ache, my body shake’ – before ‘Far Away’ wraps up the album in swathes of nostalgic electronica as Sharon promises in almost hypnotic style that: ‘I’ll see you far away’.
While the title may be ‘We’ve Been Going About This All Wrong’, there’s so much right with this deeply personal and affecting album.