Tegan and Sara are not a band with a signature sound. Ok, their somewhat monotone dueling female vocals shouting out lyrics dripping with emotion about past loves are pretty signature. But, musically, the two have developed a wide-range of songs, particularly if you look at musical styles album to album. Early releases at the turn of the century had a definite folk-pop flair. In the early 2000s, we saw a progression towards emo overtones on If It Was You and So Jealous. Then, bam!, The Con hit us with a more tender take on the 2000 style, while maintaining characteristic emotion-charged introspection and reflection.
Love songs full of dark emotion remain emblematic on Tegan & Sara’s latest, Sainthood. But the duo’s sound has definitely matured and taken another step down the not-so-seldom-trodden path from emo towards synthy pop rock. As a big fan of Tegan and Sara’s discography from 2002’s If It Was You to 2008’s iTunes Live Session, my first impression of Sainthood was that it was less accessible than their last few releases.
While arguably more pop-laden than the Con, T&S’s venture into synth-land on Sainthood brought about some strange layering of unconventional riffs and melodies. “Paperback Head” is my best argument for this statement, and almost made me dismiss this album completely. But after tens of listens, I realize now that it is primarily the vocals that get me squirming uncomfortably in my seat. This is the only track on the album, the only T&S song, in fact, co-written by Tegan and Sara. I’ll make the bold statement of blaming the collaboration for this debut’s vocal fiasco. “Red Belt”, on the other hand, is a good example of execution on the synthier sound and signature sappiness. It seems T&S need that very personal story and emotion behind their lyrics to bring their A-game. This is actually a clear strength in my book that should be underscored.
Sainthood’s sound is something new from Tegan and Sara, while still recognizably a creation of the famous twin Canadian pop act. If you’re a T&S virgin, I suggest starting with So Jealous or the Con, depending on whether you’re more into the upbeat rock sound or the deliberate emotion-filled tunes backed with acoustic guitar and piano. For fans of T&S’s earlier work who are having a hard time getting into Sainthood, I suggest giving it a few more listens, dedicating a careful ear to the lyrics and honing in on the last three tracks.