Sharon Van Etten Proves Any Album Can Be Her Best With Purposeful ‘We’ve Been Going About This All Wrong’ (ALBUM REVIEW)

“Porta” Still by SuperCollider

Angel Olsen and Sharon Van Etten, the two co-touring headliners who collaborated on last year’s “Like I Used To”, have a lot in common. They both carry the same alt-singer-songwriter torch, even if neither is really that alternative, and they’ve both developed rabid fan bases that singer-songwriters rarely manage anymore. Most of that can be attributed to their consistency, with Olsen in particular, getting better with each successive album, even when it’s impossible to pinpoint how. Van Ette, on the other hand, in her last 13 years or so, has been so reliable that even one of the best albums of 2019, Remind Me Tomorrow, still registered as a minor misstep. Olsen, whose topping of All Mirrors seems inconceivable, could learn from Van Etten, specifically about the way to build a career around a high pedigree, the kind where any album could be considered her best

We’ve Been Going About This All Wrong certainly proves the rule. Whenever Van Etten seems to be on the slightest downturn, she bounces back, marking just an interesting divergence to a growing discography, instead of a bellwether. A lot has happened since 2019, and Van Etten, breaking in her new home studio, makes We’ve Been Going an intensely personal record, even by her standards. After all, she’s no longer just ruminating on heartbreak, all though she does do that on “Come Back”. Instead, she now has an entire family, and a large chunk of a career behind her, things that actually give her more material instead of less. 

While previous Van Etten albums, and pandemic albums in general, carried a somber scarcity to them, We’ve Been Going balances the deeply personal diary entries with moments of levity and hope. On “Mistakes”, Van Etten delivers one of her catchiest and most uplifting songs of late, with a Seinfeld name-drop and an old bathroom exhaust fan included. If she had chosen to release any singles, this would surely be the lead-off. Van Etten didn’t release any singles though, and for good reason. We’ve Been Going sounds more purposeful as a collection, strung together to complement its own weaknesses, and create a complete sense of her insular conflictions, much in the same way, the different entries in her discography do.

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