Review Summary: The embryonic days of an indie phenomenon, and a damn fine debut in its own right.Chapter I - "I Said Tell Me: What's to Come?"
Take everything you know about present-day Tegan and Sara and throw it out the window. The stadium-conquering synth-meets-indie sound? Ditch it. The blockbuster movie soundtrack appearances? Take that out of the equation. The dashing suits you see on the promotional material for Love You to Death
? Erase them too (as stylish as they are). The Tegan and Sara from the late 90s, instead, was a humble indie folk outfit that thrived on intimate vocal approaches and barebones musical/production approach. Lyrics ranged from social issues to longing to desperation to depression. There was a rhythm section, but the acoustic guitars and vocals were the main focus.
But wait… if you’ve been a fan of the duo for a while, you may recognize several of those features as hallmarks of the group during their heyday (The Con
era in particular). You’d certainly be correct, but the word to focus on regarding Under Feet Like Ours
is “barebones.” The band’s style is here, but it’s very starkly outlined and sketchy compared to their future endeavors. And it’s not like they aren’t aware of how embryonic their sound is: the bookends “Divided” and five-second “Bye!” begin and end the album with lo-fi tape recordings of a few humorous exchanges with the sisters, and this kind of wide-eyed innocence continues with the rest of “Divided” as they sing their hearts out to compensate for their lack of a fully-developed sound. Under Feet Like Ours
lacks the synthesizer worship of the group’s Heartthrob
era or the intricate-yet-condensed arrangements of their The Con
era, so what we get instead is a more generic and typical look into indie folk music.
With that said, though, it’s still very nicely written and performed. Even this early into their careers, the Quin sisters already possess a knack for storytelling and lyrical detail. Perhaps the most socially conscious track here, “The Trees” is full of nice little stings against the woodcutting industry, such as “The man behind the axe/always gets a full meal/because green never puts up much up a fight.” Then you have the duo’s lament of the price of fame with “Superstar”: “Green is the color of my envy/It's the color of fame/So I'm going to write it down to scream it out/And I'm never going to be the same again.” Apparently the group detest this song today, but I actually find it to be an entertaining little criticism of superficiality - even if the sisters would eventually indulge in some of this superficiality later down the road. As for the music itself, while there’s not a ton of variety, there’s already a lot of promise in what we’re presented with. Basic folk chords and melodies are complimented with an occasional rhythm section, and it becomes clear that the vocals and lyrics were really the main focus here. But that’s not a bad thing, and the emphasis on a humbly-crafted singer-songwriter vibe really gives it a sense of intimacy and raw emotion that you don’t get from quite a few of the group’s later records. When Tegan and Sara self-righteously shake their fists on nimble indie rock highlights “Proud” and “Freedom,” it’s really hard not to sing along and groove to these sisters as they shout their messages. More subdued numbers like “More for Me” and the piano-led “Clever Meals” are a bit less developed, but they do provide some insight into the more varied avenues the duo would take later on with a few added dimensions to their overall sound.
I suppose that last sentence does describe Under Feet Like Ours
quite well. Not fully developed, not really a genre-defining release, but how many debut albums really are? There aren’t a lot of them, and it’s easy to forgive this album’s rough edges when considering its heartfelt approach and enjoyable - if not entirely original - take on indie folk music. This is far from the group’s best, but it’s impressive as hell for a first stab at the sound they’d eventually cultivate and perfect.