Album Review: Tegan and Sara - Sainthood

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Tegan and Sara - Sainthood
Tegan and Sara - Sainthood (Image courtesy of Sire Records)

I root for Tegan and Sara. Most of the time, they are a band of twin sisters who write catchy (if airless) pop songs, but every so often, they produce a moment that flat out clicks. It's when the hairs on the back of my neck stand up when the drums kick in on "You Wouldn't Like Me" or the "bye bye" refrain in "Nineteen" — I'm there. I want these gals to be one of the biggest bands in the world. With their new album, Sainthood, have they taken a step in that direction?

The first thing you notice upon hearing Sainthood is that everything is bigger. Producer Chris Walla (taking a break from his duties as bassist for Death Cab for Cutie) has added a heavy dose of muscle and freneticism; there's nothing quaint or precious about these doubletracked guitar riffs, driving rhythm parts, or big keyboards. One of the sisters Quin, Tegan, has enlisted the songwriting help of AFI bassist Hunter Burgan in an apparent effort to align the band's sound with that of modern rock. Lead single "Hell" blisters by as Tegan tears through a saga of unrequited love (a consistent T&S theme) and urban decay. Sara Quin's contributions are slightly less aggro; her songs have always been slightly poppier and the trend continues here, particularly "Arrow" and the chiming "Alligator." "Arrow" features one of the record's best vocal hooks, backed by a heavily-processed synth loop. There's a song here that sounds like MGMT's "Kids," there's a song that recalls Gary Numan's "Cars," even a sad breakup song called "The Cure." Yet for as cluttered as everything may sound, Walla does an excellent job in keeping the sound clean — that is to say, nothing is processed into murky gloom, a la Snow Patrol. The Quin sisters' voices are always front and center, allowing the listener to enjoy and appreciate these tales of love woe. The lyrical themes revolve around conceptions of one's lover (hence the album title) and are what we've come to expect from the band.

With each new record, single, or collaboration in pop culture, I find myself hoping they gain wider acceptance and success. They've been covered by the White Stripes, remixed by Tiesto, guest starred on The L Word, and collaborated with Against me! (Tegan added vocals to "Borne on the Waves of the FM Heart") yet it feels like they can't quite break through to the other side. Will Sainthood be the album that brings Tegan and Sara mainstream success? In any case, it is a record that will provide plenty of enjoyment, and maybe even a moment or two that stops you in your tracks. I'm still rooting for Tegan and Sara. I know you feel it too.