The Daily Aztec

Pop music finally catches up with Tegan and Sara

by Ryo Miyauchi, Arts & Lifestyle editor

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One thing I’m disappointed about is that I won’t get to write in length about Tegan and Sara’s upcoming new album, “Love You to Death,” here on the Back Page.The record is scheduled to be released June 3, almost a month after my graduation.

But let’s take this exciting time to revisit the duo’s last effort, “Heartthrob,” released in 2013.

“Heartthrob” is the band’s most successful record to date. Three years later, it’s also an album I still consider their best.

I understand that’s not the most popular opinion among Tegan and Sara fans, but I’m sticking to it.

A fan or not, you may recall the album’s single, “Closer,” which put Tegan and Sara on the Top 40 playlist, a place where the duo previously didn’t chart.

The duo’s entry into the mainstream partly owes to the single’s bubbly, synthesizer-driven sound. Synths are nothing new for the group, but the song changed the look of Tegan and Sara from guitar strummers to a legit pop band.

The twins also crafted songs differently than their past works.

While the duo’s previous songs found one sulking in loss with emotions pointed inward, Tegan Quin shouted out loud about a newfound love in “Closer.” The band’s music no longer sounded timid or passive.

“Heartthrob” tackled issues head on. “How come you don’t want me now?” Sara Quin asks urgently at one point in the album. “Why don’t want you want to show me off?”

The new direction headed by “Closer” didn’t immediately impress every fan, however, and neither did the rest of “Heartthrob.”

“The first time I listened to ‘Closer,’ I was very confused because of how potentially mainstream it sounded,” a friend told me. “It couldn’t be a Tegan and Sara song because the Tegan and Sara that I fell in love with didn’t play joyful synthpop tracks.”

I don’t blame her.

Upon hearing the pop-leaning songs for the first time, the servings can feel a bit too sweet.

It took some time for me to ease into “I Was a Fool,” a ballad which has Tegan seated upon a grand piano. I’m still not entirely swayed by “Love They Say.”

But my friend also told me that it would’ve been fine had “Heartthrob” not been recorded by Tegan and Sara. Her issue is less a critique on the craft than a response from the two throwing a curveball at their fans.

Admittedly, the shift in creative direction from Tegan and Sara was a bit unexpected. But in retrospect, the duo may have been a tad ahead of the game.

For one, Paramore’s story sounds similar to Tegan and Sara’s. The pop punk band, too, ascended in 2013 as a major pop force via its self-titled album, fueled by bright synths and enormous hooks.

And there’s Taylor Swift’s pop domination with “1989” in 2014. Her fifth album had the country star going full-on synth-pop.

Like Tegan and Sara, Paramore and Swift’s attempts at making a serious, artful album have only threatened to turn them into a more niche act. “Brand New Eyes” and “Speak Now,” respectively, are their most serious takes and also arguably their least remembered.

What sets Paramore and Swift’s latest albums apart from Tegan and Sara’s is that both artists actually gained more critical praise by chasing the sounds of the mainstream.

Tegan and Sara, on the other hand, didn’t move much in the critical strata compared to the duo’s friends, with some of their old fans still a bit skeptical about their new sound.

“Heartthrob” wasn’t an instant win in 2013. Now the time seems right for the music world to embrace the duo’s new record, “Love You to Death.”

Going pop and making serious art are not mutually exclusive, and the public conscience is starting to reflect more of that with an increased coverage of pop.

The praise for new Tegan and Sara material is also already underway. Indie music news site Pitchfork recently named the duo’s first single, “Boyfriend,” Best New Track.

“It is inspiring to hear a band that’s existed so long come into their own like this, finding new ways to manifest their identities into song,” Pitchfork writer Jenn Pelly wrote on the review of the song.

Sara continues to tap into the greatness found in “Heartthrob” with her work in “Boyfriend.”

The synthesizer surges with bright primary colors, but Sara’s emotions are anything but bubbly. The song tells a story of a gay woman who not only gets treated as a side piece but an opportunity to test the waters.

“I don’t want to be your secret anymore,” she sings.

Deeply personal songs like “Boyfriend” have been what Tegan and Sara are known for. The two may have fancier outfits and cooler haircuts compared to when they first gained attention, but the twins are still the same musicians as they have always been.

The biggest fans always knew this, but this time around more people are starting to notice.

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