Arts and Culture

The Aching Songs of Sarah Jaffe

As lovely as it is, her "Clementine" is no campfire singalong.

By Thom Wong 6 Jan 2011 | TheTyee.ca

Thom Wong writes regularly about music for The Tyee. He can also be found ruminating about the state of menswear at The Sunday Best.

Sarah Jaffe, 24 years old and from Denton, Texas, writes lyrics that worm their way into your heart and start keeping time there, hidden clocks of words that will pop back into your mind during innocuous tasks like buying groceries. Then, while looking at another magazine cover featuring one of the Kardashians, her words will fall snow-like over your mental field of vision, such as this chorus from "Vulnerable":

"Wake me up
Just to call me Sleeping Beauty
Fine, that's fine
I've got my hands up
I'm feeling vulnerable
"
 The album version is light, almost playful. This video from a performance in Seattle sees Jaffe on bass and someone else on giant metronome, or so it sounds, opening the song with haunting vocal and echoing strings. It pulls you like finding a love letter tucked into a library book.

"Clementine" has the name and chugging tempo of a much older song you might have heard around a campfire, smoky marshmallows disguising heartbreak. It was probably a man singing. In Jaffe's reckoning, Clementine is a dream unfulfilled, a path of regret strewn across a continent of forgotten boyfriends and bad decisions. It makes sense that songs so heavy with longing were written in Jaffe's teenage years, but rarely has teenage sentiment sounded so terribly grown-up -- each song weighted down like it's on its third marriage, hoping this one will stick.

Suburban Nature is out now on Kirtland Records.  [Tyee]

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