Weekend Listening: So Jealous by Tegan and Sara
Album: So Jealous by Tegan and Sara
Released: September 14, 2004 by Vapor Records
Recommended if you like: indie post-punk jams to sing with your sister girlfriends
Notable tracks: “Walking With a Ghost,” “So Jealous,” “I Bet It Stung,” “Speak Slow”
When I moved to New York everything my boyfriend and I owned fit into the U-Haul trailer attached to the back of my dad’s truck. After living all of my twenty-three years in the Deep South, tucked into the pine and kudzu and hypocrisy, I packed boxes destined for the other side of the country. In the months leading up to the move, we began judging every single thing in our house. T-shirts, VHS tapes, and serving bowls competed against one another for our limited space. How much we each cared, how often we used it, where it came from – these things turned into a point system, our lives a game show of preparation until we had slimmed our lives down enough to fit into a little metal box.
When he was offered his first professorship at a university in upstate New York, I was ecstatic, so proud. Over a celebratory bottle of wine, talking excitedly about the farmland up there and actually having a salary, he paused a moment and asked if I were sure I wanted to go too. Of course, I said, of course I do. I love you. And so we gave our cats to my grandparents and started driving north.
Putting together our home again in an apartment above a natural foods store, in a tiny village built around a park with a fountain and a gazebo, I finally realized what I’d done. Once the novelty wore off a bit and I could see through the shine of our new life, I found myself alone in a hot, mostly empty apartment. Because he was new, and because he works as hard as he still does, the job took most of his time, and because I had just a bachelor’s in English then, which qualifies one for almost nothing, and because we suddenly weren’t poor anymore and didn’t have to work, I found myself alone most of the time.
I’m not a woman of uncertainty, and holy shit was I nervous about leaving everything I’d ever known in pursuit of another person’s dream, but I found comfort in Tegan and Sara’s 2004 release, So Jealous. Like many albums, this one covers the scope of a relationship, but more so the death of one and the haunted afterlife of one.
Laced with sad realizations about your love, faced with the prospect of a perpetually empty bed as it is, this album stands out in the voice it gives to those feelings. Nowhere are the sisters docile or apologetic on the album, but rather shape frustration, sadness, and waning love into demands to be heard, outcries for attention. In the crashing “I Bet It Stung,” the duo scream out the frustration of the kind of lover who constantly pulls you away from your life, who fills up your field of vision with her face, her needs, her energy. Literally screaming “go away” and “I love the rock’n’roll,” the two call out that nasty feeling of loving someone but being irritated by her, by loving her.
From the excuses we give and try to believe instead of seeing how love is dying in “I Know, I Know, I Know” to the self-awareness that you can also be that needy asshole to someone else in “Speak Slow,” the women range across a dying love that should be put out of its misery. The throbbing synth intro of “So Jealous,” title track and probably the best on the album, pulls at the heart, mimicking the pump of blood and adrenaline and headache that shrinks your vision when you’re suspicious, when you know what you don’t want confirmed. These are the kinds of utterances women often form in the backs of their minds, not aloud until safe in the months or years after a relationship ends, but here we get to be as loud as we want, scream out the shittiness of not loving someone anymore, of becoming boring in someone else’s heart.
Nothing feels too trite or overdone, though, which is a feat considering musically the songs sound very similar. Both sisters often sing, and even when it’s just one of them, the vocals are doubled up so the razored sound cuts through the instruments without cessation. Musically, there’s nothing spectacular about the album, but there’s also nothing lacking, exactly; it’s poppy, maybe more upbeat than you would think given the lyrical content, executed well, and with a producer from New Pornographers and a bassist from Weezer, there’s no surprise there. Catchy beats and a good use of synth and acoustic guitar combine with the generally pop structure in an overall pleasing way, really serving as a backdrop for the girl-pop turned slightly dark lyrical tone of the album.
In that echoic apartment, as I put up plates and took up knitting and failed at baking pie crusts, I lived with the growing, sinking feeling of putting my life inside someone else’s, of leaving family and the heat and June bugs and decent mayonnaise so he could do the work he was meant to do. Afraid that, like a monster under the bed, if I spoke it out it would have license to grab my ankles, I sang it out instead until I could get on steady ground.
Years later, after a wedding and children and other huge moves with a different job, we were in a car in New Jersey, getting ready to move back to New York, back to the same job he’d taken a sabbatical from two years earlier, and I slipped this album into the cd player. Unknowingly in the death throes of that marriage, I once again was drawn to the open expression of uncertainty and frustration and confusion. Unlike years before, when he’d watch my dancing with bemused eyes, this time around he just asked that I turn it down.