On the cover of Sharon Van Etten’s new album, “Are We There,” a woman sits behind the wheel of a speeding car, her head out the window as the world zooms by. It looks like this could be a road trip record, but the singer-songwriter has other ideas.
“It’s a car wreck, actually,” she says.
Since 2009, the Brooklyn-based singer-guitarist has released a series of increasingly brutal, confessional albums. Each one is infatuated with heartbreak in its own way.
“The title [‘Are We There’] is [about] my work and my personal life, what each of those things mean to me,” Van Etten says. “And trying to find balance in my life.”
So far, balance hasn’t been easy for Van Etten, 33, who wrote the record about the final stages of a lengthy on-again, off-again relationship she finally ended in order to fully commit to her music career.
“It’s obviously a lot more complicated than that,” she says. “I’m asking myself questions about who I am and what I want.”
The record, her fourth, mirrors the breakup’s emotional roller coaster vividly, contrasting hopeful romanticism with vicious imagery of lovers “looking for a way out.”
Be it the delicate, swirling “Afraid of Nothing” or the post-rock thrash of “Your Love Is Killing Me,” Van Etten turns her unrestrained anxiety into nuanced compositions that are as musically self-assured as they are emotionally distraught. (Sample lyrics from the latter track: “Break my legs so I won’t walk to you/ Cut my tongue so I can’t talk to you/ Burn my skin so I can’t feel you/ Stab my eyes so I can’t see.”)
So when she describes the album as “probably the most intense thing I’ve done so far,” you know she means it.
Van Etten seems to be at a crossroads and wonders if fully committing to touring (which brings her to the 9:30 Club on Tuesday) is causing her to miss out on other parts of life.
“I want a life. I want a family,” Van Etten says. “I can’t do that and [tour constantly]. I know this doesn’t happen to everyone, whatever this is. I’m trying to appreciate every moment of it, but also acknowledge that all those things are on my mind as well.”
“Are We There” is a document of her restless self-evaluation.
“I am confident and I also have no idea what the hell I’m doing,” Van Etten says. “I am just a human being. Emotions are confusing.”
9:30 Club, 815 V St. NW; Tue., 7 p.m., $18; 202-265-0930. (U Street)