Sharon Van Etten, “Remind Me Tomorrow” (Jagjaguwar)
Van Etten’s first four albums were brooding and often introspective. Her debut, 2009’s “Because I Was in Love,” grew out of a toxic relationship and established her skill with nuanced and edgy songs smoothed over by thoughtful vocals.
In the five years since her last album, Van Etten began acting (in “The OA” and “Twin Peaks”), scored a film, returned to college and became a parent. “Remind Me Tomorrow” is a new start, too: It’s simultaneously her most optimistic album and her most disruptive.
She’s written many songs about love, but these are her closest to love songs. She’s set aside her guitar and moved to keyboards. She’s singing forcefully, even shouting at times.
Working with producer John Congleton (St. Vincent), she draws on Portishead (“Memorial Day”), P.J. Harvey (“Comeback Kid”) and Suicide (“Hands”). “Seventeen” is a catchy, triumphant rock song; “You Shadow” is a distorted, syncopated strut. It’s a wonderfully assured, unsettling album, like her previous ones, but it’s also surprisingly loud, dense and aggressive.
Van Etten performs Feb. 16 at First Avenue in Minneapolis.
Steve Klinge, Philadelphia Inquirer
American Authors, “Seasons” (Island)
Like so many who have had career-defining hits early in their careers, American Authors is finding it a challenge to move on from “Best Day of My Life.”
However, on the Brooklyn band’s third album, there is a distinctly darker tone. The first single, “Deep Water,” owes more to Hozier or Lukas Graham than the band’s earlier peppier works. It’s gospel-tinged and bluesy, as singer Zac Barnett, who grew up in Minnetonka, worries about sinking like a stone. “Say Amen,” which features the gritty singer-songwriter Billy Raffoul, travels similar musical ground, miles away from the usual American Authors fare.
Nothing wrong with trying something new. But the band does happiness so much better, as the fizzy chorus of “I Wanna Go Out” shows, complete with hand claps and bouncy synths. On the dramatic “Can’t Stop Me Now,” American Authors goes full Killer Queen with its massive chorus and Barnett’s over-the-top delivery riding over fuzzed-out guitar solos and Phil Spector-ish backing vocals.
“Seasons” proves American Authors is a band that can tackle nearly any style. To truly excel, though, the guys may need to pick a lane instead of driving all over the musical map.
Glenn Gamboa, Newsday
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• Cass McCombs, “Tip of the Sphere”
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• Xiu Xiu, “Girl with a Basket of Fruit”
• The Lemonheads, “Varshons 2”
• LCD Soundsystem, “Electric Lady Sessions”