Most anyone who enjoys Tegan and Sara will take a defensive stance when speaking of them, a stance that only arises in the case of guilty pleasures. Just look at that album cover ... I understand the criticism to their perceived packaged hipsterism, the gimmicky imagery of are they lesbians / are they twins / are they lovers / maybe all three? But when I play a track all of that never comes to mind because they craft such great pop rock. They remind me of Fleetwood Mac or Tom Petty for modern day indie enthusiasts; taking bits and pieces of all that great rock over the past 25 years and impressively compartmentalizing it. As well as its infectious nature, the duo have incredible talent for building pop songs from the bottom up, as they write all the material themselves.
I’m starting with their latest release because it’s not only their best work yet, but it also garners the lowest “cheese factor” of the bunch. As these twin siblings have grown and matured before our eyes so has their music. Tegan and Sara pull from all of their influences this time around; the album’s named after a Leonard Cohen lyric (“Came So Far For Beauty), “Alligator” sounds like a Madonna throwback, “The Ocean’s” fast tempo and open-stringed strumming brings Jimmy Eat World to mind, on “Hell,” one of the first tracks to have ever been co-written by both sisters, they show how easily power-chord driven punk rock comes to them, and their increasing infatuation with 80’s new wave is harnessed in songs “Don’t Rush,” “The Cure,” “Arrow,” and “Paperback Head.” Chris Walla of Death Cab fame produces T&S for the second time and he markedly improves the recording quality here, everything sounds crisp, with one of the most impressive aspects being the top-notch, forceful drumming and percussion -- the aspect of the music which really carries these songs forward.
And sure, there is still plenty that could likely be heard backing the credits to a romantic comedy, or some awfully awkward scene to one of those WB shows my wife might or might not watch; in “On Directing,” even Sara herself realizes her sugar-coated lyricism (“Go steady with me / I know it turns you off when I / I get talking like a teen.”) can induce dry heaves. In the end though I just can’t ever seem to let T&S’s immaturity get to me because the hooks are so fucking good. They'll most likely always write with naive and sometimes immature sincerity, and combined with those abrasive tomboyish voices, the unamused will quickly grow disinterested. But 2009’s Sainthood brought Tegan and Sara from oft-played guilty pleasure to a group producing one of my favorite records of 2009.