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Sharon Van Etten Blends Burnout And Heartbreak With Optimism

On January 21, 2019

Every week, we tell you about an album we think you need to spend time with. This week’s album is Remind Me Tomorrow by Sharon Van Etten.

An Buzzfeed News article by Anne Helen Petersen published on January 5 of this year entitled “How Millennials Became The Burnout Generation” quickly went viral, clearly resonating with droves of millennial readers and prompting even more nuanced discussion of what burnout can look like for different populations, like Tiana Clark’s response “This Is What Black Burnout Feels Like.” The overwhelming takeaway, in the simplest of terms, was millennials — for reasons that look a whole lot different depending on who you are, ranging from a lifetime of optimizing and marketing yourself in order to survive late capitalism to trauma passed down from generations of systematic oppression — are exhausted to the point of being frozen in a sea of laundry lists uncompleted, deferred to an illusive later time. This is the sentiment in the title of Sharon Van Etten’s fifth album Remind Me Tomorrow, and her first album in over four years.

The title is both a mantra of the busy and a reference to the option Apple devices give you to defer and update — an example of an infinite list of simple tasks that millennials seem to have trouble completing, instead opting to to hit that magic button until “tomorrow” is actually months later. According to a recent profile in The New York Times, Van Etten’s past four years have presented ample opportunity for burnout. Since her last album Are We There, Etten has found steady love and partnership, appeared on television in Netflix’s The O.A. and David Lynch’s reboot of Twin Peaks, scored a film, enrolled in Brooklyn College (she studied psychology and one day wants to become a mental health therapist) and become a mother to a baby boy. Oh, and, of course, she made an album.

But while the thought of this level of activity over such a relatively short period of time gives me hives, Remind Me Tomorrow carries an invigorated sense of optimism and lust for life — especially for an artist long known for softer, crooning Americana-infused ballads of breakup and heartache. The recent ongoing conversation surrounding burnout has been one of served with a side of overwhelming doom and gloom (for good reason!), but on this album, Van Etten turns our attention to what it’s like to get lost in the labor of love and healing.

Themes like “optimism” or “love” may expectedly conjure delicate sounds, but this is easily Van Etten’s most sonically jagged album to date. Where tender keys or plodding bass may have once stood, droning, piercing or moody synths take center stage. In fact, Van Etten wrote a good portion of the songs on an analog Roland Jupiter-4 synthesizer, and there’s even a track called “Jupiter 4” in which she sings “Baby, baby, baby, I’ve been waiting, waiting, waiting my whole life for someone like you” over ominous, gloomy low-range synths. Throughout Remind Me Tomorrow, we’re reminded that even the most beautiful things are inherently entangled with the pain and resistance of our both our past and our future. In the Times profile, Van Etten, pregnant with her son when Trump was elected, remembers “trying not to cry because I didn’t want the baby to absorb my emotions.”

So, while it’s not entirely sunshine and rainbows, Remind Me Tomorrow tells a story of what it’s like to deserve and seek contentment, and find it, even under the weight of a painful past, an uncertain future, and the incessant burnout of making it through today.

Profile Picture of Amileah Sutliff
Amileah Sutliff

Amileah Sutliff is a New York-based writer, editor and creative producer and an editor of the book The Best Record Stores in the United States.

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