Sharon Van Etten
For all the attention that was paid to her 2012 break-through Tramp, Sharon Van Etten is an artist with a manifest hunger to turn another corner. Writing from free-flowing emotional honesty and vulnerability creates a bond with the listener that few
contemporary musicians can match. Compelled by a restless spirit, Van Etten is continuously challenging herself. Now, the result is Are We There, a self-produced
album of exceptional intimacy, sublime generosity, and immense breath.
While most musicians are quite happy to leave the production end of things to someone else, with Are We There, Van Etten knew it was time to make a record entirely on her terms. The saying goes “fortune favors the bold” and yet this boldness had to be tempered. For this, Van Etten found a kindred spirit in veteran music producer Stewart Lerman whose expertise gave her the freedom to make Are We There the way she imagined. Originally working together on Boardwalk Empire, they gently moved into new roles, rallying around the idea of collaborating in Lerman’s studio in New Jersey.
It is clear from Are We There’s opening chords, we are witnessing a new awareness, a sign of Van Etten in full stride, writing, producing and performing from a place that seems almost mythical, were it not so touchable and real. Always direct, and never shying away from even the most personally painful narratives, Van Ettten’s songwriting continues to evolve. Many of the songs deal with seemingly impossible decisions, anticipation, and then resolution. She sings of the nature of desire, memory, of being lost, emptiness, of promises and loyalty, fear and change, of healing and the true self, violence and sanctuary, waiting, of silence. The artist who speaks in such a voice is urging us to do something, to take hold and to go deeper.
A dark pop musician hailing originally from northern Texas, Jana Hunter has been writing and recording, if not releasing, songs, for the past 16 years. Hunter's songs, usually featuring many overlapped tracks of her own voice, acoustic and electric guitars, and Hunter's first instrument, the violin, were recorded on tape machines for the better part of 10 years.
Growing up and on in suburbia, Jana Hunter avoided a life of casual but terrifying uniformity partly through constant bedroom recording. The "spooky, twee harmonic weirdness" (Noah Berlatsky; Chicago Reader; 1.29.09) found throughout the sparse, hissing 4-track recordings that Hunter made during that time does its due diligence in reporting on the creepiness of smalltown hiveminds, an autonomous wunderkind maturing secretly in Texas' midst, and the resultant teenage and/or cultural conflict. Hunter, intensely private, raised in a large, religious family, and an orchestral violinist from an early age, followed melodic obsessions and a gift for striking listener's as being near-"haunted" (Chas Bowie, The Portland Mercury, 2.9.06), developing a signature sonic topography.
These elements and a "quietly radiant voice with its own strange, feverish luster" (Matthew Murphy, Pitchfork Media, 11.16, 05) caught the rapt attention of critics and the enthusiastic endorsement of many of the day's most respected musicians upon the 2005 releases of a split LP 12" with Devendra Banhart and Hunter's solo debut, Blank Unstaring Heirs of Doom. She followed with 2007's There's No Home full-length and and EP bearing the title Carrion, disciplined works that showcased "Hunter's ability to write and compose. Perhaps her next step is to expand upon the talent laden throughout this impressive second effort." (Eric Fitzgerald, Prefix Magazine, 5.18.07)
Hunter's newest work (a full-length due out in 2009) is still at times bleak, even grim, but more often rapturous, lush, and resplendent, and a marked refinement of her already considerable melodicism and sensitivity. On record and on stage, with or without her band, it's these things as well as Hunter's Cheshire-cat charisma, imperturbability, and classic-eras way with song that continue to make her a looming specter on the horizon.
Although Hunter's early work was largely influenced by Western pop music (she names Beck's One Foot In the Grave, the Velvet Underground's ...& Nico as two notable influences), because of her association with Banhart and other friend musicians, Hunter's records were and have largely remained classified as that of a western folk musician. Hunter herself has said that she "didn't know shit about folk until I was well into my 20's" and that her music not only has little to do with folk, but also in large part (with the exception of some pieces on the split record) doesn't even so much as merit an association with folk music.