Reissue Breathes New Life Into Old Songs
There’s a moment on Sharon Van Etten’s newly reissued album, (it was) because i was in love, that feels like this fast-paced world has slowed down just enough to a point of near-perfect stillness. Some might remember her debut album Because I Was In Love with fondness — a record rooted in the folk tradition, it was lauded for its immense quality and tendered minimalism. Some eight years and three LPs later, Van Etten has remixed and remastered the 11-piece tracklist — she’s even added two additional songs — and more importantly, modified the title by adding the prefix (it was).
While Van Etten breathes new life into this album, its unassuming emotional distance remains intact, even in hindsight. The reissue still keeps to the original release’s contemplations, yet adds crisper guitar finishes and tightens up some of the harmonies. Fans shouldn’t expect to hear anything incredibly new or fresh; rather, it’s as if a painter has returned to a piece after years of personal transformation, only to maybe mix the same paints and touch up what was once there, peeling away with age.
Since 2009’s Because I Was In Love, Sharon Van Etten has changed labels multiple times, scored the Katharine Dieckmann-directed film Strange Weather, and acted in Netflix’s The OA as well as an episode of Showtime’s Twin Peaks reboot. As such, Van Etten has evolved as an artist and observant human; she’s matured after years on the road, and can look upon her first album with some perspective, going at it again knowing what works and what doesn’t.
The singer is upfront about what the songs on the album are supposed to accomplish. On the song “Consolation Prize,” where we see perhaps a lyrical pattern emerge, “The moral of the story is ‘don’t walk away again’” is such an agonizing refrain because it sounds almost routine at this point.
On the song “Much More Than That,” Van Etten sings about frigid love and avoiding sadness: “You look at me so slyly / but only when I’m smiling / every other time your head looks down,” effectively affronts and confronts a worn-away love. There’s some catharsis here, but it’s a brand of catharsis that Van Etten has come to master. “I sigh and then I frown / I write this moment down / Cause I cannot paint pictures with my tongue” is a perfect representation of the record’s silent stillness, but also points towards Van Etten’s approach to her creative process.
Van Etten is no stranger to pausing time in her music; some might remember her character on The OA singing “I Wish I Knew” (the album’s opener) during an episode. As she sings the other characters are still as can be, and for two minutes or so, Van Etten’s character has the same heart-stopping beauty to her voice as on any of her recordings. Now, the song’s third iteration is just as lulling as the versions that came before it: a slow, pulsing lullaby in which Van Etten reflects on how to save a relationship, while also singing about the uncertainty of really knowing someone. “I wish you’d understand / I wish that I could know / the truth is I have no idea,” she sings over a lonesome guitar, and sets a common theme right away — a theme of ad-libbing love and being okay with that.
Van Etten dips into “country” country on “Tornado.” Over tambourine, lap steel guitar, and her signature multi-part self-harmony, Van Etten drenches the listener in her heartache; the emotion is so powerful that, for a brief moment, it feels like our heartache. And that’s Van Etten’s intent: she wants people to truly relate to her music, as she told The New Yorker in a 2014 interview. “When it’s not self-indulgent and it’s not just me being broken hearted or having a bad day and it can be relatable, that’s when I work on it as a song,” she says. That is, for the most part, what (it was) because i was in love represents: a search for a common thread of empathy through art.
New additions to the tracklist, “I’m Giving Up On You” and “You Didn’t Really Do That,” fit right into the somber longing of the record. Both songs were released as a single around the time of first issue, but they work as a strong and complex closer here. “I’m Giving Up On You” plays like a repetitive piece of self-advice, a warble of self-help over a plucking guitar and breezy organ. And the instrumentation on “You Didn’t Really Do That” is warm and maybe even a little bright, accompanied by a Van Etten-choir and lyrics depicting self-doubt.
The entirety of (it was) because i was in love sounds like it exists in a sound vacuum; it’s a timeless collection of songs for longing, loving, and really not knowing what the hell you’re doing. Overall, the rework is a fitting homage to her past work, and the expanded tracklist and revamped production signal newfound strength, closure, and understanding — a new lifecycle that with the potential to help with the hurting.