Ranked: Sharon Van Etten's Greatest Albums

Rough Trade Records

May 29th, 2024


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“These are songs born of heartbreak and anger that act as a kind of imperfectly perfect healing-aid, through inspection of small detail and the things we tell ourselves in the hope that it will all be better next time.”

Words by Emily Waller, Rough Trade’s Head of Brand and Content

Before you scroll manically toward the running order, let me say straight up that there’s an argument to back any one of Sharon Van Etten‘s albums as her best, so deeply profound and well-crafted is her entire catalogue of personal odes. After 6 albums and over 15 years writing and recording music, the sincere and endearing beauty of Van Etten’s musicianship continues to mature with the kind of elegance only befitting of one of America’s greatest songwriters.

While this list examines a career punctuated by exceptional individual works, it is the artist’s overarching ability to bond with her listener that takes centre stage here. Her’s is forever music I will come back to, meditate on and keep securely within reach to accompany all manner of occasions and emotions. Collectively, these albums celebrate Sharon Van Etten‘s unique rawness and an authentic personal journey quite unmatched by any of her contemporaries.


6. Because I Was in Love (2009)

I’m a tornado, you are the dust / you’re all around and you’re inside

A bold, direct and profoundly intimate debut, the 11 songs on Because I Was in Love are the result of a single week of sessions and escaping an abusive relationship. As such, the output bears an honest rawness quite unlike the albums that came after it, Van Etten‘s full-bodied voice lain across a bed of warm but super minimal instrumentation. An unknown artist to many when the album was released, Sharon’s hugely affecting, expressive vocal qualities immediately set her apart, wielding the kind of universal appeal to lull into appreciation even the most stubborn of ears. Her luminous delivery, buoyed by tender vulnerability and timeless enchantment, offers more than a glimpse of what she would grow to become.

Best tracks: Have You Seen, Tornado, I Wish I Knew

5. We’ve Been Going About This All Wrong (2022)

I wanted to feel ageless / I wanted to be here / I wanted to feel ageless / I wanted to feel here

Post-pandemic dark laments of external forces and personal disruption await us on SVE‘s anthemic noir-pop album. The production scale is the most epic of her career here and with many grandiose moments and dramatic crescendos, this is an impressively hefty package of masterful musicianship. There’s a good dose of shimmering eighties synths founds on tracks like mid-album delight Headspace, a song that would effortlessly shine in a Swift-sized stadium. Van Etten has nothing to prove at this point and We’ve Been Going About This All Wrong only reaffirms what we already know to be true: that her sharp song craft and ability to awaken even the deepest of buried emotions is in a lane entirely of her own meticulous making.

Best tracks: Mistakes, Headspace

4. epic (2010)

Never let myself love like that again

A moving, remedial body of work that is smaller in length, but greater in its artistic intent than her debut, epic continues to explore the aftermath of an abusive relationship and documents turbulent and painful memories for the artist. It is unsurprising to learn Van Etten‘s music has been used in therapy sessions, so restorative is her grasp on her own narrative. epic‘s songs reveal grounded, emboldened vocals delivered with purpose and grace, to beautifully set the stage for the album that would see her graduate to an indie rock heavyweight just two years later.

Best tracks: A Crime, Peace Signs, One Day

3. Remind Me Tomorrow (2019)

I see you so uncomfortably alone / I wish I could show you how much you’ve grown

Arriving after a four year break, Sharon Van Etten‘s fifth album bore a new chapter for the established indie heartbreaker, ushering in a record of electrifying synth rock and sonic menace, but notably not at the expense of her confessional lyricism. Time away embracing other passions (including acting, studying and becoming a parent) fuelled a richer confidence and it’s laid bare here across a slew of future classics.

Songs move through darkness and light as the album unfurls in a heady mix of yearning, nostalgia and angst. Remind Me Tomorrow‘s ‘Holy Trinity’ comes mid album with Comeback Kid, Jupiter 4 and Seventeen forming a gorgeous consecutive streak of vocal prowess and three of the best tracks of Van Etten‘s career. Seventeen, the record’s Springsteen-esque crown jewel, went on to perfectly soundtrack a poignant moment at the back of a bus in Netflix’s hit series Sex Education, triumphantly exposing the artist’s empowering anthem to a whole new generation of fans post-Are We There.

Best Tracks: Seventeen, Jupiter 4, Comeback Kid, You Shadow

2. Are We There (2014)

People say I’m a one-hit wonder / But what happens when I have two?

If you’re reading this, you’ll already know which album tops this list. Even as I write this, I’m questioning my choice because Are We There could very easily sit at the top too. Two years after the breakout success of Tramp, Sharon Van Etten released her gorgeously layered break-up record and hearts everywhere were devastated by its searing honesty and adept melancholic beauty. Van Etten has said she did not realise she was making a break-up record at the time, which somehow makes the album all the more devastating, her raw truths freeing themselves from her to form swooning sonnets of loss and change. For an album that is also almost entirely self-produced, it couldn’t be more personal or more intense.

I find there’s a preserved reassurance among all the self-reflection and indifference explored on Are We There and it’s as comforting as it is wildly heartbreaking. But then, the best-written albums often are aren’t they.

Best tracks: Afraid of Nothing, Every Time the Sun Comes Up, Tarifa

Buy Now
Are We There 10th Anniversary Edition vinyl

1. Tramp (2012)

Everything changes / In time

A rock record that doesn’t detach itself from the introspective hallmark of Van Etten‘s earlier work, Tramp arrived in 2012 with a bigger, more expansive sound and the production muscle of Aaron Dessner (The National).

A see-saw of sweeping emotions and giving into moments of euphoria that sometimes belie darker truths is all part of the package here. These are songs born of heartbreak and anger that act as a kind of imperfectly perfect healing-aid, through inspection of small detail and the things we tell ourselves in the hope that it will all be better next time.

This is an album to bawl to, to be empowered by and to allow drip-feed every emotional cavity that exists inside us, through it’s raw, weighted, stirring delivery and sonics equal parts agony and ecstasy.

Like much of Van Etten‘s songwriting, the songs on Tramp linger with their listener long after the needle has reached the end of the record. More than a decade on it is undoubtedly rooted in the hearts of many, an enduring capsule of strength through pain coupled with an acute understanding that we must always push forward. For me, it tops this list not just because it sounds fucking great, but because of what it represents: an incredible musician coming into her own and finally gaining the wider recognition she deserved. Even the cover art, in all its bold and intended simplicity, perfectly evokes the raw power of an artist arrived and ready to face whatever comes next.

Best tracks: Serpents, Warsaw, We Are Fine, All I Can





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