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Sarah Julia Press Shot 2024 credit Philine van de Hul

Sarah Julia use their bond to look back on memories with harmonic whimsy on “Cairngorms”

17 January 2024, 11:30 | Written by Cassidy Sollazzo

The debut single from the Amsterdam-based sister duo, Sarah Julia summon their indie-folk inspirations to create a multidimensional woodland soundscape that overflows with emotion and remembrance.

Our brain’s deep-seated associations with certain places can bring back memories we thought were lost to the subconscious. It’s the closest we as humans can get to something like time travel. These associations can be comforting, and even healing: used to remember, but also move forward.

Dutch sisters Sarah and Julia Nauta, the duo behind Sarah Julia, speak to this idea on their debut single "Cairngorms". While the pair have bounced around creatively throughout their teen years, most notably with not-so-brief acting stints, they’ve now pivoted their efforts to songwriting. "Cairngorms", sets the sisters off on a new path of confessional indie folk with a slight twang and haunting harmonies.

From the outset, "Cairngorms" is thick with nostalgia. The first sounds of the track evoke someone putting in a cassette or DVD, emphasising the exploration of memories in all forms. The song then kicks into a bassy, pulsing backbeat that is quickly juxtaposed with full-yet-soft acoustic patterns, giving listeners a taste of the almost-country folk instrumentation that continues to build—sounding like something between Alex G and Waxahatchee, with a little bit of Maggie Rogers thrown in. Sarah Julia’s chilling vocal harmonies appear in the first pre-chorus, adding a thickness and depth to the track that emphasises their bond, while orchestral swells build intensity with every lyric, overflowing by the final chorus.

Sarah Julia set the scene for listeners right away, transporting them to the vastness and beauty of Scotland’s Cairngorms National Park (“Some kind of real life postcard / Cotton wool clouds wrap around me”). The sisters say the park holds a sentimental place in their hearts: “The Cairngorms are a place our dad used to take us hiking when we were younger… When you find yourself stuck in repetitive thoughts at home, the Cairngorms manage to drown them out.” Trekking into nature does sound like a fail-safe way to stop ruminations, and the song hits on finding reprieve in its depths: “Feeling the calmness / Feeling the comfort of coldness.”

The chorus doubles down on the quasi-déjà vu feeling of being somewhere that holds important memories with the lines “Walking the land of the lost / Knowing I’ve seen it all before / Feels like the dead can be reborn / In Cairngorms.” Cairngorms feels comforting, giving the sisters direct access to fond memories that can help them reckon with how life may have changed over the years. Sarah Julia say the park “holds a memory of a version of [our dad] that we try to hold on to,” highlighted in the lyric “Here where our lives are woven / I feel your arms wrap around me.”

In the music video for "Cairngorms", the sisters are joined in the titular park by a mossy tree creature that looks something like the Cairngorms version of Cousin Itt. The creature represents their memories and the person they have them with. The sisters wander through the greenery, at times looking like ants next to the gargantuan tree stumps, highlighting the park’s naturally mystifying quality. The tree creature walks each of the sisters through the park, having independent adventures: for Sarah, fishing together at the lake, for Julia, hitchhiking into town to grab a pint at a nearby pub and play some Scrabble. They don’t speak, but the comfort and connection is striking.

On "Cairngorms" Sarah Julia spill their hearts out to listeners with overflowing symphonies and poetic yet autobiographical lyrics.

"Cairngorms" is out now. Find Sarah Julia on Instagram.

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