This Week’s Model — Sharon Van Etten, “Seventeen”

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“Seventeen,” the new single from Sharon Van Etten’s album Remind Me Tomorrow, sneaks up. Gradually growing louder in volume at the beginning, the track is all beautiful tension at first, which is Van Etten’s creative comfort zone.  It holds promise and threat. It could go anywhere. Then Van Etten’s deep, rich voice kicks in and the music — steady beat, light electronic effects — grows warmer, as if a sun-heated breeze was raised. The cut continues to build, adding yet fiercer sonic squalls, a punching guitar part, and vocals that rise to near belt.

The age cited in the song almost cant help but call to mind both Janis Ian and Stevie Nicks. Van Etten owns the comparison, even massaging her vocals with a suggestion of the latter’s trademark tremor. There’s yearning and reflection in her voice, seduction and defiance. Stylistically, it’s maybe a gentle nudge to the likes of Angel Olsen, a reminder that Van Etten treaded this particular territory first.

The lyrics largely stay poised between two different possibilities: that they’re directed at Van Etten’s younger self or simply stand as advice for a spied girl who stirs memories. Likely it’s both, but there are tip offs as to which way the sentiment leans (“Down beneath the ashes and the stone/ Sure of what I’ve lived and have known/ I see you so uncomfortably alone/ I wish I could show you how much you’ve grown”), including the music video, described by Van Etten as “my love letter to NYC,” surveying her important personal locales like treasured keepsakes. With resonant elegance, Van Etten captures the power in looking backward.

 

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