With three acclaimed albums already under her belt, it would have been easy for Sharon Van Etten to deliver her fourth, Are We There, in a similar vein — a move that would ensure the retention of her hard-won audience. Instead, for the follow-up to her 2012 breakout, Tramp, Van Etten chose to chart new territory, confirming herself as an artist here to stay.
To fill the technical gaps in the execution of her vision, Van Etten enlisted studio veteran Stewart Lerman as co-producer. That choice proves greatly beneficial, as Are We There puts on full display a dynamism to which she had only alluded on her previous efforts. Are We There is clearly the album Van Etten wanted to make from the very beginning, whether she knew it or not. Though she remains true to her roots as a singer-songwriter, Are We There is more expansive, musically, than that. Take, for example, the misty and obtuse "Our Love," which hints at new-wave excess, subtly and artfully muted.
On Are We There, Van Etten gets hopelessly, gleefully lost. Much can be read into the omission of the question mark in the album's title: It marks her as both established and arriving. For all the boldness of her choices, it's hard to imagine that Van Etten is unaware of the risks she's taking. Taken in a certain context, her lyrics seem to implore her audience that to take the leap with her is to be rewarded, that she shares the journey with her listeners. "I need you to be afraid of nothing," she sings simply on the album's opener.