Wednesday, August 1, 2007

Reviews:: Tegan & Sara The Con

It's amazing to remember the Quin sisters trucking around their acoustic guitars, playing two-minute power chord, angry female rock songs that showed off their off-kilter, but addictive voices and teenage angst. I mean, despite the struggles they've endured they are as close to a household name as you get in Canada rock right now. Still, for any long time fan, it's almost impossible to separate who they are now from their past.

I think that is because despite the huge changes everyone is talking about on this record, they still implore the same song writing skills and limitations we expect and accept from the girls. You could strip the production and keyboards and polish from this release and it would be the same two girls sitting on a stage singing and laughing (it's just in front of thousands instead of a few people waiting for another band).

But they aren't the same band. They aren't playing open-mics. They are playing acoustic sessions for SPIN. The aren't hoping to play a few covers at a gig to help sell some CDs. Instead, one of the biggest bands in the world covers them. They aren't recording on a four-track. Now they jump into the recording studio with the guidance of Death Cab super instrumentalist and producer Chris Walla. Most importantly, they aren't little kids anymore. They've been playing music for 10 years, but despite the fact they have gotten better musically, they still gravitate to quirky observations about love that seem jaded and naive, because that's who they are.

I was a bit surprised to read Pitchfork's dismissive (but fairly well scored - 6.6) review of the album. I'm not sure what the expected from the duo, especially with the addition of a man whose own band it lamented for the transition of DCFC from indie rock to radio pop. They've been on tour for what seems forever and finding a common ground with new wave acts like Franz and The Killers, so is anyone surprised that the sound is powered by synth driven lines instead of power pop guitars? If they had come with another record of angry teen punk riffs, would have anyone accepted it?

What I think people are missing out on, is the underlying structure they use on most of this songs. The vocal interplay and crunchy textures are still there, despite the new wrinkles. They tried a few new ideas, evolved aspects of their songs without completely converting to a new band. Essentially, that's what every fan begs for when their "favorite band" gets noticed.

Excluding the lost opener, Sara's Relief Next To Me is a stronger starter. As Tegan's vocals float ghostlike in the background, you settle into a comfortable setting. They aren't ready for love, never seem to get it right and much like the songs itself, she realizes that trying fight for something is more important than the outcome of the battle.

But the albums shifts quickly on The Con. The Death Cab-ish guitar strums (which I think could have easily found a home on Plans) are quickly complimented with a swelled chorus, catchy synths and the pleasant after affects of a year on the road with some of the best song writing new wave bands in the world. They girls never lose their voices, but have crafted a much more complex hook to drive home their point. The catchiness continues on Knife Going In, where Sara takes the forefront again and the slow burning track

Sure the duo falters at points, most notably for me was the momentum killing Are You Ten Years Ago - which swirls chaotically and loses control, but the songs are short or followed by something that entrenches you back into the record (in this case, the syrupy sweet new wave ditty Back In Your Head).

They admit to feeling directionless and that honesty shouldn't be overlooked on this effort, but the sounds they use aren't as unfamiliar as you'd think. Sure Burn Your Life Down adds some fluffy synths, but you'd be fooling yourself to think the verses and chord progressions are something any fan wouldn't have expected. Soil, soil is a delicate piano ballad that sounds beautiful (and fades too quickly), but it reminds me of the harmonies and piano driven ballad Clever Meals they wrote in '99. It just sounds tighter and more mature now.

I'm not sure I can think of a better description for this record. It's like taking a step back and realizing how much two people you've been around for ten years have changed, but never have you questioned your affection for them.
MP3:: Back In Your Head

web site :: myspace

Posted at 5:40 PM by ack :: 0 comments

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