Rock’n’roll evolves, shifts, mutates—and persists. Anyone who doubts this need only listen to “Seventeen,” which performs the magic trick of weaving a classic-sounding song out of strands and blocks of sounds and textures that never quite existed in music’s “classic rock” heyday. A heavy beat offsets a desultory piano line, synthesizers at once ferocious and distant blaze around the edges, guitars eventually squonk onto the scene, all while Van Etten sings poetically of longing, nostalgia, and destiny—lyrics at once concrete and slippery, a deft interweaving of adult and teen-aged introspection that as a listener you intuit more than comprehend. The song rumbles and, eventually, roars. A master of subtle melodic gestures, Van Etten along the way crafts a chorus that slays with muted glory.
Some commentators hear Bruce Springsteen in the anthemic energy of this song, and while I get the comparison, leaving it at that diminishes Van Etten’s accomplishment. She’s no knock-off. The entire album in fact strikes my ear as a brilliant example of how to be a 21st-century rock’n’roller—taking the bones of archetypal rock music (“Seventeen” has a backbeat; you can’t lose it) and then planting your own individual 2019 self, with all its accumulated know-how and influences, right into the heart of it. Since we last heard from SVE (2014’s Are We There), she has become an actor, a film composer, a mother, and a graduate student in psychology. Which is just to say that she has quite a formidable self to align with one type of creative expression or another. When it came time to record a new album, she opted for a producer, John Congleton, known for synth-pop stylings, and arrived at the studio inspired by the dark, reverberant music of Portishead and Nick Cave. Something arresting was bound to come of all of this, and it did in the form of the enigmatic but majestic Remind Me Tomorrow, which was released in January on Jagjaguwar Records. That’s where you’ll find “Seventeen.”
Van Etten feels like an old friend by now because of the Eclectic Playlist Series, but this is only the second time she’s had a download featured here; if you missed “Serpents” back in 2011, you’re in luck: the free and legal MP3 is still available. Meanwhile, you can listen to Remind Me Tomorrow, and then buy it, on Bandcamp, where it is available digitally, on CD, or on vinyl. And in case you missed it, another song from the album, the brilliant “No One’s Easy To Love,” closes out (and provides the title for) this past month’s playlist, here.
MP3 via KEXP.