The Energy of Uncertainty in “When the Lights Go Out” by Sarah Jarosz

Sarah Jarosz is one of those names I’ve heard for a decade but never investigated. After listening to one of her new songs, “When the Lights Go Out,” from her latest album “Polaroid Lovers,” I find her to be a wonderful singer-songwriter, making danceable, contemporary folk-pop.

The arrangement of “When the Lights Go Out” is the standout single of the record, finding a comfortable middle ground between full-on pop production and a live-band sound, with tasteful and virtuosic bass playing throughout and an energetic acoustic guitar solo that nods to Jarosz’s Americana roots. Jarosz’s matter-of-fact singing style reminds you that you’re listening to a thoughtful singer-songwriter, not a pop diva, and invites some intimacy (and a dash of twang) into the smooth sound.

This synergy between acoustic and electric, folk and pop continues throughout the song, ending with a delightfully glitchified version of the hook.

This is an experienced singer-songwriter using the full arsenal of modern music production to create a catchy song about new love. 

There is a question at the heart of the song, which gives it a sense of wonder, possibility, and excitement, but also uncertainty. We find the singer right at the point in which a relationship goes from a crush to perhaps something more serious:

How’d you go from a face in the crowd
To all I’m thinking about?
Sitting here on the ninth cloud
Floating around
Just a thought ’til I said it out loud
Who are you when the lights go out?

The question is never answered, at least in this song. But Jarosz invites the listener into the mystery with a smile, perhaps suggesting that the question is enough for now. The energy of uncertainty certainly makes for a propulsive song, and like a Polaroid, the blurred edges make the whole thing a little more fun.

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