Album of the Week: Tegan and Sara, 'Hey, I'm Just Like You'

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Tegan and Sara's 'Hey, I'm Just Like You.'
Tegan and Sara's 'Hey, I'm Just Like You.' (Warner Records)
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Hey, I'm Just Like You is Tegan and Sara's ninth studio album — but also, sort of, their zeroth. How does that work?

The album's dozen tracks are all new recordings of songs the Canadian sisters wrote as teenagers, polished up in collaboration with Australian writer-producer Alex Hope (a leading light of indie pop, and a past collaborator with artists like Carly Rae Jepsen, Troye Sivan, and Marina).

The entire album was made by women, from the artists themselves to the musicians who performed on the LP and the engineers who mixed and mastered it. That's in keeping with the spirit of a project that's not just about dusting off some old demos or offering a deep dive for superfans: it's about elevating women's voices, and, more specifically, honoring the experiences of adolescent girls. Although their writers are now adults, these are songs that were written by two teenagers who were both in the process of discovering their identities as gay women.

You see why the album has that title, and why the duo's new memoir, High School, has a mirror on its cover. The book tells a remarkable story in its own right, and puts these punchy songs in the full light of their importance to the girls who wrote them and the women who are singing them. These are songs of liberation...and they're also a whole lot of messy teenage fun.

When you drop the needle on Hey, I'm Just Like You, if you're a longtime Tegan and Sara fan the first thing you'll notice is that this record does not sound like early Tegan and Sara. They grew up in the '90s, and their flavor of punk (or "Plunk," for light punk, as they initially styled themselves) sonically landed a lot closer to Ani DiFranco than the Ramones.

After two albums in that vein, their sound leaped forward with a new polish and crunch on 2002's If It Was You, with driving songs like "Monday Monday Monday" and "Living Room." Their sound continued to mature on the varied and reflective masterpieces So Jealous (2004) and The Con (2007); Sainthood (2009) challenged fans with elliptical lyrics and complex arrangements, even on jittery rockers like "Hell."

With Heartthrob (2013) and Love You to Death (2016), Tegan and Sara swung for the fences with a rush of synthpop that thrilled longtime listeners and won new ears: the former album's "Closer" gave them their first-ever bona fide Hot 100 hit. Although their new album is more guitar-driven than either of those LPs, and as you might expect, somewhat less nuanced, it sounds much more like those albums than anything else in the group's studio catalog. It's definitely a 2019 album, not a retro exercise. Announcing the album, they said, "This is the record we never could have made as teenagers, full of songs we never could have written as adults."

The resulting record works on multiple levels. In some ways, it sounds like the climax of a trilogy that started with Heartthrob: highly accessible songs with glistening arrangements that jump out of your speakers. That's true right from the start, as guitar arpeggios and synth rushes underscore "Hold My Breath Until I Die." They'll be all right, the duo sing, if they just manage to do what the chorus suggests. It's a classic adolescent sentiment, given additional weight given what the memoir reveals about the twins' personal struggles.

You don't need to be an angst-ridden teen, though, to identify with sentiments like "Don't Believe the Things They Tell You (They Lie)," "I Don't Owe You Anything," and "We Don't Have Fun When We're Together Anymore." "Keep Them Close 'Cause They Will F--k You Too" is a particularly sweeping gesture. "Without you, I will never be whole, I will never be full again." Also, have fun, because they're gonna f--k you too!

Still, the sisters' signature empathy is all over that song, and all over the whole album. Hey, I'm Just Like You may include the most forthright breakup songs in Tegan and Sara's catalog, but even here, the performances ache with longing for everything to be all right — for the singers and for their listeners.

Can you imagine what it must be like for the girls (and a couple of boys) they dated as teens to hear these songs now? I won't pretend that I can, but it does seem clear that in preserving and, in a sense, completing these songs, Tegan and Sara are sharing these pieces of their youthful selves with some listeners who may sorely need a piece of someone's heart to hold on to.

Of course that's how all music works, and that process takes on special meaning with this album. In High School, Sara writes about how "there weren't very many movies that featured two girls kissing or having sex, but if there were, I knew about them." Gay kids today have many more movies, and songs, available to reflect their experience, but there still aren't enough.

I'm a cis straight guy who's five years older than Tegan and Sara, and I've gone through breakups where their music is all I can even bear to listen to. Hey, they're just like me: they're human. Unlike them, though, I'm privileged to see my experience reflected in mountains upon mountains of albums, books, and movies.

There are kids, and adults, who will pick up High School and see themselves reflected in its mirrored cover, and who don't get to see that reflection often enough. This album feels particularly addressed to them — including the younger versions of Tegan and Sara themselves.

The Current's Hey, I'm Just Like You giveaway

Use this form to enter The Current's Hey, I'm Just Like You giveaway between 7:45 a.m. Central on Wednesday, September 25, 2019 and 11:59 p.m. Central on Tuesday, October 1, 2019.

Four (4) winners will each receive one (1) hardcover copy of Tegan and Sara's book High School and one (1) compact disc of Tegan and Sara's album Hey, I'm Just Like You. Three (3) back up names will be drawn.

Prize retail value: $38.58

Winners will be notified via email on Wednesday, October 2, 2019. Winner must accept by 10 a.m. Central on Thursday, October 3, 2019.

This giveaway is subject to Minnesota Public Radio's 2019 Official Giveaway Rules.

You must be 13 or older to submit any information to American Public Media. The personally identifying information you provide will not be sold, shared, or used for purposes other than to communicate with you about American Public Media programs. See Minnesota Public Radio Terms of Use and Privacy policy.

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