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Tegan and Sara’s new upbeat sound

Allie Tollaksen | Tuesday, February 5, 2013


When Tegan and Sara fans press play on one of their tracks, they might have trouble describing the group’s sound to anyone else. The duo has been called folk-rock in the past with guitar-driven songs making up their first few albums, and they were undisputedly thought of as an “indie rock” outlet. Listen for their sad, indie ballad “Where Does The Good Go” on a particularly depressing episode of “Grey’s Anatomy.” This kind of music was how Tegan and Sara got their start and how I came to know them. 

Then came their 2004 album release “So Jealous” and its single “Walking With a Ghost,” and a turning point in their song-writing style – the band was sounding poppy. Tegan and Sara continued to release “alt-pop” records like 2007’s “The Con” and with it their insanely catchy, aptly titled single “Back In Your Head,” as well as 2009’s “Sainthood.” Suddenly, Tegan and Sara seemed a little more radio-friendly but still were no Natasha Bedingfield

Four years later, however, everyone’s favorite Canadian twin sister band has released its newest studio album “Heartthrob” and have emerged yet again with a new sound. “Heartthrob” is upbeat, synth-heavy and surprisingly danceable. Suddenly, the sisters have dropped the guitars entirely and moved full-time behind their keyboards, offering their take on the electronic sound that has become so salient in today’s music.

The thing is, I’m not so sure how I feel about this change. While the album, which was released Jan. 29, has generally been a critical success, it was difficult for me, a long-time fan of the group, to process this electro-pop production. If someone had told me in 2006 that Tegan and Sara would release an album that sounds like Gwen Stefani’s solo work, I would have laughed and said something snarky because I was 13 years old.  

The standout song on the album is indisputably “Closer,” which brings the group’s songwriting abilities together with an unexpected electro-sound. The song’s chorus is classic Tegan and Sara – racy and catchy and easy to sing along with – and the track is destined to land in the iPods of many a student here. 

The next best song on the album is probably “I Couldn’t Be Your Friend,” though it at times sounds alarmingly similar to Katy Perry’s “The One That Got Away.” The difference is, however, that the lyrics are more complex and sung more sincerely than in Katy Perry’s hit.  I will hand it to the duo – they may have crossed genres, but their powerful voices and perfect harmonies have remained.

“Heartthrob” also features slowed-down ballads that evoke an almost R&B quality. “I Was a Fool,” the third track on the album, is a sad song about heartbreak that sounds nothing like the Tegan and Sara we’ve ever heard before. “Now I’m All Messed Up” sounds like a cross between Vitamin C’s “Graduation” and Sinéad O’Connor’s version of “Nothing Compares 2U.” 

Though the songs are almost overwhelmingly poppy and strangely familiar at times, Tegan and Sara set themselves apart with their lyrics. “Heartthrob” as a whole explores themes of young love, infatuation and heartbreak, and though the songs may at first appear cheesy or dated, upon closer inspection, they are genuine, often melancholy lyrics set to upbeat anthems. In a particularly personal and somber lyric, Tegan sings, “Now I’m all messed up/Sick inside/Wondering where you’re leaving your makeup.” 

Though it may be difficult for fans like me to grapple with the idea of Tegan and Sara as an electro-pop band, “Heartthrob” is beginning to grow on me. At first listen, I thought of the power ballads and synth-filled hooks as “selling out” or at least changing for the worse, but upon giving it a few more listens, I appreciate the band’s ability to somehow blend their personality and stories of heartbreak with a completely new upbeat sound.

Contact Allie Tollaksen at atollaks@nd.edu