TERRY GROSS, HOST:
This is FRESH AIR. "Remind Me Tomorrow" is Sharon Van Etten's first album in four years. During that time, she appeared as an actress in the Netflix series "The OA," performed a song in David Lynch's "Twin Peaks" revival, wrote the score for the movie "Strange Weather" and started a family. Rock critic Ken Tucker says Van Etten's new music has moved beyond the boundaries of standard singer-songwriter work.
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "COMEBACK KID")
SHARON VAN ETTEN: (Singing) Hey, you're the comeback kid. See me look away. I'm the runaway. I'm the stay out late. I'm recovering.
KEN TUCKER, BYLINE: That's "Comeback Kid." It's a song that announces Sharon Van Etten's return to making albums, not so much in its lyric - Van Etten isn't making a comeback - as in its music. Putting down her guitar on which she composed a lot of her earlier music, Van Etten plays the organ on that song. And this album "Remind Me Tomorrow" is powered by keyboards with a richer, fuller sound than anything she's done before.
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "JUPITER 4")
VAN ETTEN: (Singing) Touching your face - how'd it take a long, long time to be here? Turning the wheel on my street, my heart still skips a beat. It's echoing, echoing, echoing, echoing, echoing, echoing. Baby, baby, baby, I've been searching for you. I want to believe in love. Baby, baby, baby, I've been waiting, waiting, waiting my whole life for someone like you. It's true that everyone would like to have met a love so real.
TUCKER: That's "Jupiter 4," its title the name of a synthesizer. The track is characterized by keyboards and drum machines, swirled around to create a smoothly ominous sound that's echoed by Van Etten's ghostly vocal. The line, I've been waiting, waiting, waiting my whole life for someone like you, it may take you by surprise. The music suggests something far more doubtful, something more pessimistic.
But listening to the song over and over, it struck me. The crooning that confides secrets, the chant of baby, baby, baby that sounds as though she's channeling The Shangri-Las from a half-century ago, it's all a way of describing the kind of love that floods into your life, filling it up, full.
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "NO ONE'S EASY TO LOVE")
VAN ETTEN: (Singing) Yes, there were jerks recalling the years of loves past as you opened the door and told me how you love me so much. The resistance to feeling something that you've put down before, but keep quiet of it, as you could not face it anymore.
TUCKER: Many of the songs on this album could be described as mood music. Perhaps it derives from Van Etten's recent work on movie and TV soundtracks - the setting of a certain tone and then repeating subtle variations on it within the composition. But there's another kind of song on this album as well. It's Sharon Van Etten's version of a rock ballad with a prominent big beat and lyrics that suggest autobiography that may or may not be her own truth. You can hear this on a steely song called "Seventeen."
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "SEVENTEEN")
VAN ETTEN: (Singing) I know what you want to say. I think that you're all the same, constantly being led astray. He's thinking of something you don't. Downtown hotspot halfway up the street. I used to be free. I used to be 17. Follow my shadow around your corner. I used to be 17. Now you're just like me. Down beneath the ashes...
TUCKER: Over the course of "Remind Me Tomorrow," Sharon Van Etten sprinkles in details of the life she's discussing in interviews, about the son who's going to turn 2 pretty soon, about how difficult relationships in the past strengthened her for better ones in the present. But you don't have to know anything about Van Etten to find this album striking and impressive. It's the sound of a woman redefining herself on new terms that are totally her own.
GROSS: Ken Tucker reviewed Sharon Van Etten's new album called "Remind Me Tomorrow."
(SOUNDBITE OF NICHOLAS BRITELL'S "THE IRAQ WAR SYMPHONY")
GROSS: Tomorrow on FRESH AIR, my guest will be composer Nicholas Britell. His score for "If Beale Street Could Talk" is nominated for an Oscar. He also composed the score for "Vice," which is nominated for Best Picture. Britell scored the films "Moonlight" and "The Big Short" and composed the theme for HBO series "Succession." For "12 Years A Slave," he wrote spirituals and work songs. He has a lot of interesting things to say about his approach to composing film music. I hope you'll join us.
FRESH AIR's executive producer is the Danny Miller. Our interviews and reviews have produced and edited by Amy Salit, Phyllis Myers, Sam Briger, Lauren Krenzel, Heidi Saman, Therese Madden, Mooj Zadie, Thea Chaloner and Seth Kelley. I'm Terry Gross.
(SOUNDBITE OF NICHOLAS BRITELL'S "THE IRAQ WAR SYMPHONY") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.