“Time heals pain.” When tending to a broken heart, that very phrase (or some Chicken Soup for the ___’s Soul variation) remains one of the oldest clichés in the book. In the case of Sharon Van Etten, the exact opposite is true—and for the sake of the New York-based singer’s blossoming career—pain isn’t such a bad thing after all.
Take one glance at the title of Van Etten’s fourth studio release, Are We There, and you can’t help but read it as a question. Despite the time that’s elapsed since the release of what many critics consider her breakthrough album—2012’s Tramp—Are We There is an inquiry that the singer-songwriter could probably both confirm and deny at this point in her life. Van Etten might be in her early 30s now, but her painfully honest narrative in her newest album indicates that her journey is still very much in progress and—lucky for us—she’s more than willing to take listeners along for the ride.
If there was any doubt that she hadn’t quite found her voice yet with Tramp, be prepared to cast all of those doubts aside upon hearing Are We There—in the opening song, “Afraid of Nothing,” Van Etten boldly declares that she “can’t wait to be afraid of nothing.” If you’re hoping for an album peppered with Van Etten’s signature naivete, fear not. There’s still plenty of crooning, over-doomed relationships and the respective struggle of whether to hold on or let them go, especially with title-says-it-all numbers like “Nothing Will Change” and “I Love You But I’m Lost.”
So, is Van Etten actually “there”? While she certainly isn’t afraid to reveal inner truths that can often paint herself in a less-than-favorable light, it’s clear she’s also comfortable with just being herself—without judgment—which is, completely inadvertently, probably placing her closer to “there” than she thinks.