The spring of my junior year of high school was the time when my musical sensibilities began to take shape. I started attending noise shows, downloading album upon album of math rock and ambient drone and exhibiting a condescending lack of interest anytime my friends tried to talk to me about music. Oh yeah, I also listened to the Tegan and Sara album “The Con” pretty much every day. For some reason, the emotionally upbeat power-pop folk played by these Canadian twin guitarists/vocalists captivated the high school me.
Even I didn’t know what I liked about Tegan and Sara’s music. By the time “The Con” came out, the Canadian twins were already four studio albums deep with a fan base of radical feminists and “Grey’s Anatomy”-watching seventh-grade girls alike. The 16-year-old me couldn’t claim ownership of their music, as I certainly didn’t “know them when…” Furthermore, at a time in my life when selecting music was more about challenging myself than anything else, the sometimes synthy power-pop provided no moral high ground — whatever that meant to me at the time.
It wasn’t until anticipating the release of their latest record, “Sainthood,” that I was forced to realize why I adored them so. Tegan and Sara’s music isn’t necessarily easy listening, but it’s able to reach a wide variety of listeners. The strength of their writing is in their knowledge of this paradigm, a recognition that shines through clearly on the tracks of “Sainthood.”
“Sainthood,” much like “The Con,” is a total break-up album. The first few tracks, including the single, “Hell,” sound like they were written for a nighttime drive home after an emotional breakup with a longtime lover. Frustrated and disheartened, Tegan and Sara examine the harsher side of power-pop, sometimes exploring the colder, more minimalist tendencies of new wave. Whereas “The Con” escalated slowly from airy disillusionment to tightly knit song forms, this release wastes no time on subtlety. Tegan and Sara are quirky songwriters and they let it show.
The next few tracks, starting with “On Directing” are a little melancholy and hopelessly wishful. But Tegan and Sara know that no one likes that pathetic longing, and go all Canadian-lesbian-elfin-Sasha Fierce on us. With its simple but catchy hook, “Alligator” shows that the duo is, in fact, “over you, over you, over you.”
Tegan and Sara do their best work at the end of the album, in the slightly detached, reflective environment most similar to “The Con.” “Sentimental Tune” and “Someday” find the pair in familiar territory, offering truly interesting and heartfelt pop that anyone can enjoy and relate to. Beauty blooms in the silence and space.
The digital version of “Sainthood” includes three bonus tracks, which frankly, should have made the cut for release. “It Was Midnight” would have fit perfectly into the heart of the album, and “Wrists” would have been an ideal closer.
“Sainthood” is a solid release. While not a track is wasted, the album is less than 36 minutes — a disappointing reality considering that early interviews indicated that fifty or so tracks were up for consideration. Regardless of the fact that this album is very good, the listener is left to wonder if Tegan and Sara could do better. “The Con,” though also produced by Chris Walla, was a more cohesive and consistent album than the band’s new release.
But I’ve yet to let “Sainthood” marinate. Tegan and Sara albums are like potential love interests, and I have a feeling that the more time I spend with “Sainthood” the less I’ll care that it’s short and a little too busy.