As I write this, it seems like everyone is talking about the newest season of “Stranger Things.” It just came out; I hear it’s good. The thing I always enjoyed about that show - maybe more than the narrative - is how evocative it is. It really feels like those 80s movies that I grew up on. That’s a powerful trick, and not easy to do. “We’ve Been Going About This all Wrong,” Sharon Van Etten’s sixth album, has that same effect. It taps into a sensation that’s both familiar and nostalgic. I don’t know if this was intentional, but I love this album for it.
I’ve always enjoyed Sharon Van Etten’s music. I found her earliest work captivating, when her voice carried a lot the weight, and the instrumentation was sparse. As she grew, so did her sound, getting more forceful, veering more into rock territory. I enjoyed that too, but it didn’t capture me the same way. Because of this, I was caught off guard, unprpepared by the power “We’ve Been Going About This all Wrong” would have on me from first note. The sound is one that swells, then calms. Here the instrumentation veers less towards rock and more towards dream pop. Synths shimmer through the darkness. Every track feels like it should play over the closing credits of a great 80s movie, and I mean that as high praise.
The album works so well as a whole that I have hesitation disecting it too much here. The build of the opener “Darkness Fades” foreshadows what we’re in store for, giving you the template that many of the songs follow: Start off minimal, then in the last quarter, open the song up - that’s when the synths come in, and the vocals really start to thunder through the track. It’s a tactic that gets repeated, but never gets old. It creates an album that haunts you with its peaks and valleys. But then she slips in a track like “Darkish” that is a minimal and reminds you that even without all the shimmer, she can still bowl you over with just her voice and guitar.
This album holds some her strongest songs, and with “We’ve Been Going About This all Wrong” Sharon Van Etten got it just right.