Tegan & Sara embrace pop stardom with ease on ‘Love You To Death’
Canadian power twins Tegan & Sara have gone from indie royalty to providing an unabashed pop anthem for The Lego Movie. Is everything awesome on their eighth studio LP? JULES LEFEVRE investigates.
The great staying power of Tegan & Sara relies not on what musical stylings they are wrapping themselves in, but the intimacy and connection that they offer to their audience. Eight records in to an acclaimed and genre meandering career and they are still offering bone deep excisions of their lives and loves; their innermost thoughts and relationships; their fears and triumphs. Their openness has cultivated the kind of die hard fans that most bands can only dream of, fans that will follow them anywhere regardless of what music they’re making – because at the end of the day, it’s still Tegan & Sara up there, giving everything of themselves.
The fact that their wild swerve from indie rock to mainstream pop on 2013’s Heartthrob didn’t dissuade their audience, but rather just endeared them to a new realm of Katy Perry & Taylor Swift fans, is a testament to this. For years they had endured relentless sexism and homophobia at the hands of the indie press – but in pop they found an audience that not only didn’t care, but were excited by the difference. Heartthrob was not a cynical business move to capture a new audience either – it was an accelerated but expected evolution from a band that had long flirted with pop melodies (see ‘Back In Your Head’ from The Con, or ‘Hell’ from Sainthood). It also helped that it was an excellent record – sophisticated, 80’s inspired pop with punchy arrangements and sky high hooks.
“The overarching feeling here is confidence – the result of a band that threw themselves off a cliff and found a net hanging just below.”
For the first time in quite a few records, they haven’t followed up with another epic diversion. Love You To Death is a tighten up, a polish; a more thorough and focused pop record than Heartthrob. Greg Kurstin (Taylor Swift, Katy Perry, Adele) was at the production desk for the entire record – a feat in itself as he rarely works on whole albums – and his touch is sharp: snares snap, synths shimmer, vocals are doubled and frosted. The sheer amount of instrumentation is mind boggling: try and pick apart all the layers within ‘Faint Of Heart’ for example. It does have marked differences to its predecessor: there’s nothing nearly as visceral as 2013 single ‘Closer’, or as bombastic; LYTD looks inwards rather than skywards.
Tegan Quin has spoken of LYTD being a companion record to 2007’s The Con in regards to its lyricism. And, unsurprisingly, she’s correct. LYTD explores a lot of territory: new relationships; marriages; broken down relationships; moments of crippling self-awareness. The most touching moments are the most honest: on opener ‘That Girl’ Tegan confronts her bad behaviour and wonders “when did I become that girl?”; on ‘Boyfriend’ Sara walks away from someone with the heart cracking throwaway “I don’t want to be your secret anymore”. The hugeness of Heartthrob guaranteed a sacrifice of intimacy – on LYTD they have clawed it back.
It’s also the first time they have addressed their relationship with each other, which in the past has been infamously volatile. Sara mines this on the cold piano ballad ‘100x’ (“it was cruel of me to do what I did to you”) and the crackling ‘White Knuckles’ (“breaking each other like knuckles in a fight”).
They have leaned away from arena-sized bangers, opting instead for tautness and tension. There is still an abundance of grippy hooks: check the tumbling chorus of standout ‘BWU’, the coy harmonies of ‘Dying To Know’, or the bounce of lead single ‘Boyfriend’. Interestingly, the track that nearly didn’t make it on the record is one of the strongest: ‘That Girl’ manages to hide brutal lyricism within rivers of glittering synths. The overarching feeling here is confidence – the result of a band that threw themselves off a cliff and found a net hanging just below. 10 years ago, the idea of Tegan & Sara being pop stars was one that wouldn’t have been entertained – but now the only surprising thing about their pop success is the total ease with which they have achieved it.
Follow Jules LeFevre on Twitter