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We’ve Been Going About This All Wrong Is a Patiently Illuminating Turn from Sharon Van Etten: Review

Every chord change means something on the indie rocker's brilliant sixth album

sharon van etten We've Been Going About This All Wrong album review photo by Michael Schmelling
Sharon Van Etten, photo by Michael Schmelling
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    For the rollout of Sharon Van Etten’s sixth studio album, We’ve Been Going About This All Wrong (out Friday, May 6th), the singer-songwriter opted to not share any songs as advanced singles; instead, the album is intended to be listened to in order, all at once, assuring the transformative journey that she herself took in making the record.

    Often, these steps will be taken for an album that taps into such a personal intimacy that the artist feels it deserves a more holistic, contained listening experience. To be fair, all of Sharon Van Etten, all her albums exist in this space. Her voice carries a potency that few singers can manage; her reflective lyrics are poignant, meditative, and affecting; and her musical choices are dynamic and designed to move you with immediacy.

    On We’ve Been Going About This All Wrong, Sharon Van Etten is at an all time high, crafting a powerful journey on the subjects of motherhood, partnership, loving one’s self, and navigating the darkness that plagues both her individually and as part of the collective. It isn’t fair to claim that this album is Van Etten’s most mature to date — considering this is her sixth album and each before it has had a similar level of wisdom and dynamic songwriting — but there’s an opening within We’ve Been Going About This All Wrong, a vulnerability that is so striking and gorgeous that it proves to be her most fulfilling work yet.

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    Where previous albums were rooted so heavily in guitar that it became the natural conduit to her expressive vocals, Van Etten digs more into synths on We’ve Been…, and the resulting soundscapes are more full than they’ve ever been. “I’ll Try” features synths that buzz and burn brightly, giving a summery hue to an otherwise introverted song. The wash of keys and strings that burst through the end of “Home to Me” is not only cinematic, but it brings an even more immediate layer to Van Etten’s booming piano and her simple plea for her child to come home to her. These are songs that perhaps share much of the same DNA as her previous records, but there is an expansive warmth to them that makes Van Etten feel her most vital.

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