Sharon van Etten's new album Remind Me Tomorrow begins with one of the most extraordinary songs about friendship I've ever heard. On I Told You Everything, van Etten meets a friend at a bar, clutches their hands, takes a shot, and tells them everything about a dark time. "You said, 'Holy shit, you almost died'," van Etten sings. "I had no idea". The event in question is never revealed – but it's not vital to the narrative of the song. What's more important is the swell of trust and vulnerability that van Etten unveils, musically illustrated across the stunning track by airy, delicate production.
The song kicks off an album that's so close to perfect, you'll be scrambling for the replay button before the last notes have faded away. Made with John Congleton – a production wizard who has helped artists such as St Vincent, Angel Olsen and Kimbra make some of the best albums of their careers – Remind Me Tomorrow expands van Etten's folk/rock style with elements of pop and electronica. Although that direction can dilute certain artists' songwriting, it only deepens van Etten's, allowing her to unearth emotional truths that cut right down to the bone.
Van Etten's voice is as transfixing as ever on Remind Me Tomorrow, particularly on the gloomier, slower moments. On the hypnotic Memorial Day, she chants in a hauntingly high falsetto: "You will run," her voice swirling up towards the sky. Later, on Jupiter 4 (a pared-back, trip-hop version of a dance song van Etten originally wrote for Donna Missal) she's haunted by an old memory: "Turning the wheel on my street/My heart still skips a beat/It's echoing, echoing, echoing … "
When van Etten wants to roar, she does so spectacularly; Comeback Kid is a punchy, triumphant burst of energy, while the nostalgic Seventeen has her look back fondly at her younger self when she was kicking around in New York. But it's the closing song, Stay, that holds the album's peak.
It's a love letter to van Etten's child, whom she had after her last album. Over an ambient, glimmering bed of percussion, she considers how he will help her grow and learn as much as the other way round: "You won't let me go astray/you will let me find my way". It's heart-breaking and hopeful, and it shows that van Etten remains eternally open to learning from life's rocky, inexplicable road.
Artist: Sharon van Etten
Album: Remind Me Tomorrow
Verdict: A hypnotic, deeply affecting ode to the messiness - and immortality - of love