REVIEW: Matt Jaffe depicts the beauty and harms of idealized romances on ‘Voodoo Doll’
The love we often perceive as a double-edged sword — one that cuts dimensions in half, separating our fantasy world from the real one, through which we trudge at one snapback to reality — isn’t really a dark rabbit hole as we always thought. Whatever oblivion awaits us at the bottom, the fall does not have to be devoid of beauty.
As described by San Fransisco-based singer-songwriter Matt Jaffe, his latest single Voodoo Doll is the kind of love song you don’t want to be written about you.
And it’s not the punishing or existential foresight of unrequited love that makes it as such, but rather the simple truths that we tend to overlook as we give in to the selfish trance of infatuation our brains are addicted to that push us down the path towards unhealthy obsession.
Sometimes, these truths are rather disappointing, but they’re not to be fretted over, as perfectly captured by Matt in Voodoo Doll.
Melody over lyrics
“My logic fails, her ardor falls, pain prevails within four walls”
The song follows a narrator, who describes in simple yet exhaustive words the feeling of being rejected by a person after revealing to them one’s naked, most vulnerable side.
As depressing as that may be on the surface (I mean, it truly is; who am I kidding?) it is veiled by a wonderful ensemble that makes for an excellent folk melody, giving emphasis to Matt’s singing on top of what seems to be a wall of swelling strings, contrasted by a simple riff and a smooth rhythm.
“A fairytale under martial law, a nightingale with a fatal flaw
An even keel will overflow with chaos hiding down below”
However, that is not to say Matt is a run-of-the-mill lyricist himself. If he was, he would not have had captured such intense emotions through beautiful one-liners in Voodoo Doll:
“She has got my voodoo doll, she’ll throw it off a waterfall
It’s the only way she knows at all to say she loves me”
Though pegging himself as a simplistic songwriter who doesn’t like to beat around the bush when it comes to lyrics, Matt prefers to captivate his listeners through his melodies — and it’s not something one can master so easily.
“I try to say everything as concisely as possible. If it can’t be said within 3 and a half minutes, maybe it’s not meant to be said, or needs to be said in an alternate way. Unless you’re going for a different form of writing altogether — think “Desolation Row” or “Mariner’s Revenge Song.”
“Another principle is to value the melody over the lyrics. Wonderful melodies can carry middling lyrics, but wonderful lyrics cannot carry middling melodies. Ideally, they are both wonderful. Stylistic progression — I wouldn’t call it intentional, but I follow my influences subconsciously.”
Creative influences — from cowboy punk rockers to synth-pop legends
Interpretations are open and subjective, but if there’s one thing Matt and I both agree on, we know that context is fun.
Voodoo Doll is not just a one-off treat from Matt. It is a single for his upcoming album Kintsugi, which he describes as “a synth-pop album in the vein of Nena and The Go-Go’s,” alluding to his musical influences from across different genres.
“It’s a single off my album Kintsugi, which is coming out in about a month. I’m a dinosaur, so I love full albums. That may be meaningless for listeners, but if you’re not, in part, doing music to satisfy yourself, then something’s wrong.”
For instance, Nena is the German artist behind the infamous 99 Luftballoons from 1983, a track that is cemented in memory for its brooding war themes hidden behind a thinly veiled tune that is as catchy as it is danceable. The Go-Go’s, on the other hand, are the new wave phenoms from California, famous for their seminal 1981 album, Beauty and the Beat.
While in the discussion of his songwriting principles, Matt shared how his cowboy persona (as a songwriter), or the path which he intended for himself at some point, led to where he is now — albeit the process that may have led to his becoming was an arbitrary result of time passing.
There is a funny observation (made by someone else) that all punk rockers end up as cowboys. John Doe from X, Dave Alvin from The Blasters, Alejandro Escovedo from The Nuns. I became a cowboy several decades early, but the means of communication mellow with age. Intentional progression is possible, but it usually leads somewhere different than the intended destination.
As for Kintsugi, Matt seems to be taking on a route that could be sonically similar to what Nena or The Go-’Go’s would release, but any comparisons made can be so far off at any given point.
And speaking of influences, one could say that Voodoo Doll is a big tribute of his to one of his favorite bands ever: The Magnetic Fields.
During our conversation, Matt shared his love for The Magnetic Fields and the influence that they had on his songwriting process, as far as Voodoo Doll goes.
“Voodoo Doll coincides with my mega-fandom of The Magnetic Fields (ongoing mega-fandom). Their music has elements of baroque pop, indie folk, and droll humor that couldn’t be found in earlier influences. But inspiration is cumulative and doesn’t exist in a vacuum, so it’d be silly to discount the overarching influences for my songwriting — Talking Heads, Elvis Costello and Tom Petty. Some new discoveries that are exciting me right now are Camera Obscura, El Perro del Mar and Allo Darlin’.”
At the time of writing, Matt and his band are yet to release Kintsugi — the album is slated to release on August 27. So far, they have released two singles from the album, Voodoo Doll and Save Your Sorrow, and based on the list of influences he cited for the album, Kintsugi is looking to be a refreshing follow-up to his catalogue of loud, punk-rock-inspired ‘cowboy’ albums.
And seeing how far he’s come in his creative venture, there is no telling what Matt has in store after Kintsugi. Even he doesn’t know the answer. And there is no point in trying so hard to come up with an answer.
“It’s impossible to see all ends. And disadvantageous to try. But I am starting a record this Thursday that will be a synthpop album in the vein of Nena and The Go-Go’s. After that, I plan to make an acoustic album in the vein of Wildflowers and King of America. But as I said earlier, these destinations are only intended and rarely realized as they are intended.”