Tegan and Sara

This Business of Art

by Ben Varkentine

17 July 2000


As though communicating in the shorthand of the identical twin sisters they are (one has bleached her hair or the other has dyed it), Tegan and Sara Quin sing and play acoustically driven rock and roll, trading vocals like old school rappers. I wish that they had indicated on the lyrics whose voice is whose, as it is all I can tell you is that both are in the not-trained-in-the-classical-sense- but-filled-with-character box.

Listening to Tegan and Sara, one imagines sitting across from them in a booth in a coffeehouse as they rattle off a caffeinated dialogue with each other. You’re fascinated by much of what they have to say, but at the same time, you want to say “Girls! Girls! Calm down! Have a Corona or something!” They sing as though they have a message to deliver and once they have would rather be moving on to someplace else.

cover art

Tegan and Sara

This Business of Art

US: 18 Jul 2000
UK: Available as import

The Quin twins discuss with each other for your benefit their girlhood, commitment both political and personal, sexual escapades and the feeling of being walled in by relationships, the artists lament of having to get a “real job” (you go on and tell it on the mountaintop, sisters), exhibitionism and ruminations on fame. All in a combination of interior monologue and disjointed narrative.

Some more variety of instrumentation and invention in arrangement would have been appreciated, as the songs can seem to run together as recorded. However, if the rock writer Chuck Eddy is right and album-ending songs predict the future, Tegan and Sara’s next album should be worth waiting for: The drum-program driven “Superstar” is the most atypical song here, and may suggest an early clue to a new direction. I personally would be curious to see what they would produce in songwriting collaborations with some more melodic writers (hey, even Ani DiFranco recorded Bacharach), of course, this may interest them not at all. Power and lyrics are this music’s strengths, not melody. The songs are put over on sheer force of will and in-your-face attitude: You will listen to this! Fortunately, you’ll find it’s worth your while, but the lack of “sing alongs” does make their music a slightly more bitter pill to swallow. Still, bitter pills are better than the M & M’s currently on offer (and off her and on her) on the pop charts.

Tegan and Sara strike me as being truly alternative music, in the sense of offering another choice to those charts. Though they are teenagers, this isn’t the jailbait whoops-I-showed-you-my-panties of Britney Spears. And though they are feminist it isn’t in the Coyote Ugly empowerment through shaking your ass on a bar way. But strong, smart young women who find no sympathy in the top 40, and men who like strong, smart young women—that is to say, real men—should like this a lot. Tegan and Sara are not glamorous but compelling, like a soundtrack to tomboys out on the town.

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