Review Summary: Another consistently entertaining album of girl-on-girl action.
With 2007’s deceptively layered breakout record The Con, Tegan and Sara Quin, along with uber-indie producer Chris Walla, reveled in the darker recesses of indie pop, merging unconventional song structures and atypically diverse instrumentation with the kind of incisive, realistic lovelorn tales the two long ago perfected. Few would have expected the record to chart as well as it did, and it’s probably no coincidence that this, their sixth record, capitalizes on this. It’s perhaps the band’s most accessible to date, but these identical lesbian twins are hardly the likeliest candidates to be mainstream sellouts. Rather, Sainthood is a full-bodied, meticulously crafted rock record, one that stands firmly on its bedrock foundation of guitar, drums, and bass and lets the duo’s way with words and distinctive personalities shape the album into yet another uniquely Tegan and Sara album.
The two have always grounded their work in an essentially rock/pop mix, but never as blatantly as on Sainthood. Forgoing the quirky sonic soundscapes and expanded textures that characterized The Con, Walla beefs up the guitars and turns the amps up to 11, resulting in a thoroughly muscular record. From the jagged chords that open “Arrow” to the shiny keyboards and charging drum rhythm on closer “Someday,” Walla and the twins pulls no punches, concocting a potent blend of post-punk and polished pop-rock that rarely lets off the gas pedal. It’s perhaps Tegan and Sara’s most direct record to date, one that shines the spotlight squarely on what has always been the two’s strongest asset: their lyrics.
Tegan continues to play the role of designated hitmaker, penning catchy gems like propulsive first single “Hell” and the chiming alternative gem “The Cure.” Her specialty is striking a Cyndi Lauper-like balance between straightforward pop structures and hooks that refuse to let go with lyrics like “screaming like no one might / call the cops and arrest you this time” or the authentic verisimilitude of want-you-back anthem “The Ocean.” Sara, on the other hand, matches her oddball voice with suitably ambiguous lyrics and some of the more musically interesting tracks on the record. The funky Canadian (read: white) soul of “Alligator” finds her complaining of “alligator tears cried over you” and warns “run around on me / die without,” while the surprisingly poppy “Red Belt” admonishes one to “slow it down, you have a tendency to rush back into your past / slow it down, you transfer all your weight and disappear / kneel, to condition all the feelings that you feel.” For all their growth as lyricists and songwriters, Tegan and Sara repeatedly prove on Sainthood that not only do they work best when focusing on their everyday descriptions of love and broken relationships, but also when they continue their technique of writing songs separately. Each song here has a distinct Tegan or Sara identity, giving the album a well-thought-out sense of flow; in contrast, the one track written together, “Paperback Head,” never really develops a discernible theme and comes off like one of the few half-baked efforts here.
On first listen Sainthood might even sound a bit bland to first-time listeners, as the similar production causes a few songs to blend together into generic punk-influenced alternative, particularly in the second half. But that comes off more as Walla’s directive than the sisters’, particularly when you consider how tightly wound the songwriting here is and how effectively the band delivers hook after delicious hook on top of consistently engaging lyrics. It’s there on the stutter-step backbeat of “Don’t Rush,” it’s there on the snarling faux-punk anthem “Northshore,” and it’s there in their enviable ability to make the listener care about their ubiquitous girl problems and obsessions. And really, who can’t relate to girl troubles?