Release Date: Jun 3, 2016
Record label: Warner Bros.
Although Tegan & Sara are now twenty years into their career, I seem to have unintentionally bypassed their music in its entirety. This changed with the release of Love You to Death, after noticing a flurry of blogosphere excitement and countless recommendations from people in the physical and virtual worlds. With little to no knowledge, and more crucially expectation, I began the 31-minute long player and by the end of its ten-track run-length, I loved it, suitably, to death.
It was Tegan & Sara‘s last album, Heartthrob, that saw them suddenly metamorphose from slightly earnest indie-folk duo who hung out with the likes of Death Cab For Cutie and Weezer to fully-fledged merchants of massive pop bangers. Closer, in particular, was one of the finest pop songs released for ages, and it comes as no surprise that they’ve reunited with one of Heartthrob’s chief architects, Greg Kurstin for its long-awaited follow-up. Kurstin, who seems to be carving up quite the career for himself as the alternative to Max Martin, has produced an album full of pop suss and sparkiness.
If you take nothing else away from this new Tegan and Sara record, at least know that it’s never too late to change. A decade ago, the Canadian twins had established themselves as efficient purveyors of what you’d probably have to describe as an awkward compromise between pop and rock; the hooks and the melodies were there, particularly on 2007’s The Con, but the guitars were angular and persistent, and the lyrics suggested deep emotional conflict. Take into account that Chris Walla, once of Death Cab for Cutie, sat behind the desk on that full-length and you should be able to infer precisely where the Albertans were at, at that point.
After 15 years in the outer reaches of the indie mainstream, the Canadian sisters Tegan and Sara Quin dived headlong into pure pop on 2013’s excellent Heartthrob. Now they have reunited with the producer Greg Kurstin (Sia, Kylie), Love You To Death is poppier still, each song buffeted by fizzing synths, pin-sharp drumbeats and chant-along, glitter-bomb choruses. While their musical palette has shifted, their lyrical detail remains razor-sharp – dissecting the complexities of modern relationships on Boyfriend and their own fractured sisterhood on the lovely 100x (“It was cruel of me to do what I did to you,” sings Sara).
Love You to Death is a brilliant consolidation of what Tegan and Sara started on Heartthrob, taking their deeply felt songs to the masses without losing any of what made them so great, so real, and ultimately so relatable no matter what one's situation in life may be to begin with. Their honesty and intelligence shine through at all times, and they take the sublime parts of the modern pop landscape, while giving no time to the ridiculous. Like Heartthrob, this is pop music that is all heart all the time, and for that, the sisters deserve every accolade that comes their way.
The path from earnest indie singer-songwriter to glossy, electronic mainstream pop star is rarely smooth. The artist who decides to take it usually finds it fraught with obstacles. There’s the risk of alienating your old audience in search of a new one that may ever materialise, the accusations of selling out or capitulation to record company pressure, and the snarky suggestions that something craven and desperate must be afoot, the latter fuelled by the longstanding belief that the world of the indie singer-songwriter is a righteous and noble one, packed with free-thinking integrity, and mainstream pop is living proof of Hunter S Thompson’s line about the music industry being “a cruel and shallow money trench … where thieves and pimps run free”.
Tegan and Sara are pop purveyors now — there’s no debating that. Not only did the Sisters Quin prove their remarkable chops on 2013’s synth glitterbomb Heartthrob, but one could theorize that they’ve been practicing for the Big Game on every previous record in some shape or form, whether that’s 2004’s mostly acoustic breakout So Jealous (2004), the more experimental and piano-based pop of The Con (2007), or the touch of Paramore-punk rush on Sainthood (2009). Heartthrob reached the sugar-coated apex of one of the many Everests they’ve conquered, but the sublime new Love You to Death manages to stay there.
It’s become passé to talk about selling out. And so, when industry veterans Tegan and Sara finally started to achieve a modicum of mainstream success with the inescapable hit single “Closer” about four years ago, it inspired palpable excitement among longtime fans, coupled with a simmering anxiety: Yes, they undeniably deserved this recognition. What they might have sacrificed to achieve it, though, wasn’t immediately obvious.
In 2013, Tegan and Sara released their seventh album Heartthrob and immediately shot to a new level of fame. After a slow build over nearly 15 years, in which they steadily massed a fervent hardcore fanbase as a folk-inflected singer/songwriter duo, they metamorphosed in a blink into a massive pop group: instead of dual acoustic guitars and unadorned, harmonic vocals, they teamed up with Top 40 producer Greg Kurstin and adopted an ultra-glossy, near-blinding synth-pop sound. There's a razor-fine line between populist and derivative, and theirs was a calculated risk that paid off—not only was the record critically and commercially successful, it contained some of Tegan and Sara's best songwriting work to date.
You canâ€™t fault Tegan and Sara for wanting to go pop. Theyâ€™ve been slugging it out over twenty years with the indie-rock thing, and frankly, between So Jealous and The Con, theyâ€™ve pretty much mastered the form. How many times can you do the gentle-cooing-reflective slab? So, it really was no surprise when the sisters started flirting with straight up pop on Morgan Pageâ€™s monster single, â€œBody Work.â€ With that anchor landed, the sisters took a some tactical shots at pure-popdom on 2013â€™s Heartthrobâ€¦ and those shots worked.
Comparisons can’t be avoided: Tegan and Sara’s latest album Love You to Death is a clear continuation of the path they charted three years ago on their unlikely ascent into retro synthpop splendor, Heartthrob. This isn’t debatable, it was calculated; the duo even returned to producer Greg Kurstin to actualize the same effects reached on that album. Now, because of Heartthrob’s surprising success in both critical and commercial circles, Love You to Death aims to be as similar as possible to its predecessor (although it may contain just as many, more tenuous differences), resulting in an audience that will undoubtedly be unable to escape listening to this new effort with the analytical ears of someone deeply attached to its sister album.
On 2013's Heartthrob, Tegan and Sara were on the leading edge of a pop curve now well-worn by the likes of Taylor Swift, Carly Rae Jepsen and others, drenching their needy, catchy love songs in a glossy, 1980s synthesizer sheen. Rather than taking another route — or, to borrow a song title, making a "U-Turn" — the sisters' follow-up record, Love You to Death, aims for the same stretch of road with an extra dose of pep in the tank. The album's best hooks hit with dizzying force, from the "whoa-ohs" of the deliriously catchy "Stop Desire" to the pulsing keyboard riff that drives the aforementioned "U-Turn.
"Nobody hurts you like me," Tegan and Sara sing on the opening track from their eighth album. It's a twist on a classic pop sentiment -- a little sadistic, a little sly – floated over glistening disco synths and rising-tide drum burble, and it's a perfect T&S moment. The Canadian sister duo have been subtly putting their stamp on different styles of music for coming on two decades, first as a clever, self-deprecating folk act (suggesting Ani DiFranco refugees with a Go-Go's jones), and then as a consistently thrilling indie-pop band, particularly on 2005's hook-fest master-class So Jealous.
There were no doubt a few fans out there put off by Tegan and Sara's nosedive into slickly-produced pop music with 2013's mainstream breakout, Heartthrob—what with its radio-friendly singles which found the Sisters Quin cracking the Hot 100 for the first time in their two-decade career. (Not to mention their Lego Movie theme, "Everything is Awesome," which won over the tween birthday party crowd. ) Some viewed the pop-ification of their sound as pandering to the masses—or "selling out," for anyone who still insists on using that outdated, increasingly meaningless term—while others, willing to step back and look from a broader vantage point, saw the music as a polished version of the hook-savvy songcraft they've been honing since their humble beginnings.
The identical Quins have always been a fearlessly progressive duo, developing their style with each new release. Love You To Death continues their advance away from the late 90s indie-folk kiln which first fired them, fully discarding the analog to build on the marked synthpop of 2013’s Heartthrob. But this time Greg Kurstin – gilded producer behind such former chart giants as Kelly Clarkson and Pink – takes the Canadians to a different era of pop.
Eight albums into their career, Canadian twins Tegan and Sara have made their definitive record. 2013’s ‘Heartthrob’, which boasted the pounding ‘Closer’, revealed the former indie rockers as a force to reckon with in the pop world. If that album was a surprise left hook, ‘Love You To Death’ is an indisputable KO.From the kaleidoscopic swirl of opening track ‘That Girl’ to the crystalline sheen of power ballad ‘White Knuckles’, the Quin twins are relentless in their quest to move our hearts and feet – often in different directions.
If you’re hoping for a return to the bold and thrilling musical adventurism of pre-Heartthrob Tegan And Sara, we’ve got bad news for you: The duo are remaining squarely in the mainstream pop arena, at least for the foreseeable future. You may long for the days of The Con, but the sisters have planted a flag in Taylor Swift’s territory, and they’re not leaving until it’s been conquered 10 ways from Sunday. Love You To Death is an album that adheres rigorously to a formula, and while it’s hard to imagine anyone doing that formula much more effectively, it’s also ultimately a bit dispiriting to hear artists this talented force their formerly roaming muses into a single mold, albeit a glossy and appealing one.
The line between love and hate may be thin, but to hear sisters Tegan & Sara Quin sing it, slimmer still is the line between romantic love and feeling drained of life. The Canadian duo puts a 21st-century spin on New Romanticism, the early-’80s subgenre that trafficked in grand gestures and sparkling keyboards. It’s a good fit; tracks like “That Girl” and “Boyfriend” focus on minutiae that can seem mortally important in the hypercharged context of capital-R Relationships, and the pillowy synthpop beds crafted by superproducer Greg Kurstin (Adele, Kelly Clarkson) simultaneously cushion and enhance the psychic blows described within.
Before their breakthrough album, 2013’s Heartthrob, Calgary-born twins Tegan and Sara wore their indie credentials pretty firmly on the sleeves. They released several albums with Neil Young’s Vapour Records, The White Stripes covered one of their songs, and they had two albums produced by ex-Death Cab For Cutie guitarist Chris Walla. With albums like 2007’s The Con, they garnered a small but dedicated following outside of their native Alberta, Canada, making waves across North America, but had arguably not quite set the world alight.
It's notoriously challenging for artists to go from underground darlings to pop stars without being accused of selling out. Sibling duo Tegan and Sara took the risk anyway on 2013's Heartthrob, an infectious seventh album that successfully launched them wholly into the pop realm. Love You To Death, produced by Greg Kurstin (Adele, Sia, Beck), feels like the companion piece.
by Luke Fowler Some passable stuff here, mostly confined to the second half; the chorus of “BWU” has the album’s one remotely moving melody, while “100x” and “U-Turn” change up the backing instrumentation to save listeners from having to hear the exact same synths for 32 minutes straight. Otherwise, I’m surprised by how heavily this rubs me the wrong way. I’ve always been able to count on Tegan and Sara for pleasantly unchallenging indie pop, but for whatever reason, this release feels totally devoid of any personality or flair, which was the main thing their earlier albums had going for them.