[27 October 2009]
‘Powerful’ is the working term for Tegan and Sara’s sixth studio album. Approximately two years after the release of popularly acclaimed The Con, the sisters come back with a fresh bid. And surprising as it may be, the twins actually wrote together on Sainthood, for the first time in over a decade of musical releases.
“Arrow” provides a propelling start to the album, making the sisters’ new, integrated energy instantly apparent. Tousled in a post-punk revival framework, the ladies’ vocals—some damn catchy ones at that—make child’s play out of first impressions. Next, “Don’t Rush” confirms our initial inkling: Sainthood is colored with electronic add-ons almost in its entirety. Though certainly unexpected, this practice no doubt complements the style Tegan and Sara initially set out to create: a fan-pleasing blend of their last two albums. With this in mind, the Quins called back Death Cab for Cutie’s Chris Walla (producer behind 2007’s The Con) and Howard Redekopp (one of the men behind the console for 2004’s So Jealous ).
Through focused balance, some of the tracks on Sainthood are able to effectively combine technical programming with the twins’ poignant harmonies. And, as always, punchy choruses carry most of the weight in numerous songs. “Hell”, the first single, showcases the album’s dynamism through heavy power chords and some pretty dark inspirations.
All throughout their sixth record, Tegan and Sara continue pushing towards a more expressive, swaggering lyricism, retrieving some of the adulthood garnered with their 2007 release. Though not as aggressive as The Con, Sainthood is equally energetic and despondent. “I’ve got the cure for you”, Tegan sings on “The Cure”, one of the catchier tracks on the record; this particular cut suggests a familiar song construction—often used by the duo—overly embellished to achieve an extremely marketable track. The Quins then take the record’s punk-inspired antics a whole lot further with “Northshore”, a self-indulgent ‘70s-inspired dash, and although the song adds to the overall potency of the album, it also becomes a bizarre middle point, inevitably losing significance when put into the album context.
The following couple of songs bring forth a more paced demeanor. “Alligator” and “Nightwatch” both experiment with softer electronic arrangements, albeit not always successfully: the widespread use of cutesy synths can make the situation awkward for everyone involved. Other tracks like “Sentimental Tune” and “Red Belt” are reminiscent of some of the twins’ earlier efforts, exposing more vulnerable lyrics and simpler arrangements.
Overall, Sainthood is heavier than previous efforts, both lyrically and musically, and old fans will probably appreciate what this pair has accomplished together. However, for a new listener, the album might come off as a somewhat hard swallow; the songs are often too produced, and may even lack some honest musicality at their core. Still, Tegan and Sara deserve their fair share of recognition for their ever-changing style, and their guts to always explore new realms.