Album Review: Tegan & Sara – Sainthood

Tegan & Sara


If there’s one thing that Calgarian twins Tegan and Sara have learned in their 29 years, it’s that when you find the formula for success, you stick to it. Case in point; their newest release, Sainthood. First off, the Quin twins recognize that their best and most fan-favoured albums are 2007’s The Con and 2004’s So Jealous. They pretty much guaranteed the success of Sainthood from the beginning by comprising their production team of Death Cab for Cutie’s Chris Walla (The Con) and Howard Redekopp (So Jealous).  Hunter Burgan (AFI) who previously played bass on The Con has also returned to co-write three of Sainthood’s tracks.
Tegan and Sara’s vocals are a big part of their formula. Sainthood offers their signature sweet, almost chipmunky harmonizations that border on being discordant (paradoxically, this makes them sound that much more amazing). While their vocals are still very much the same, they have changed it up just enough to keep things fresh, Sara even channels Karen O on ‘ Arrow‘. In fact, the entire track wouldn’t seem out of place on the Yeah Yeah Yeah’s newest album It’s Blitz!
The first single ‘Hell‘ follows in the footsteps of ‘Back in Your Head‘, The Con’s most successful single.  Both of these songs show off the girls’ uncanny ability to repeat a prominent chorus line without getting annoying. ‘Hell’, along with stand-out tracks ‘Northshore‘ and ‘The Ocean‘ have already gained fan appreciation as the full album streamed on MySpace for the week leading up to its release.
As for their previous work, Tegan and Sara both had a hand in the writing process, each penning seven of the thirteen tracks (one is co-written). This time, instead of writing separately from their respective sides of the country – Tegan in Vancouver and Sara in Montreal – they forced themselves to write together, trapped in the same room in an unfamiliar city. Tegan described the situation as “complicated and difficult”, which makes it sound like the product will be hard to digest; yet, the result is a leveled, cohesive album (The Con was called bi-polar) with sharper edges than anything they’ve released before. I think the main success here is not that they wrote an amazing album, but that they were able to survive the process. My sister and I would most likely expend our creative energy topping each other’s insults.
Personally, I find that most Tegan and Sara albums require a few listens in order for the intricacies and lyrical masterminding to make themselves known. Sainthood is no different. So far, I find that it’s catchier than previous albums and their most commercial release yet. The Con set the bar very high lyrically by being so emotionally devastating. Sainthood, however, is looking promising in this department with many relatable songs in the key of failed relationships and unrequited love. You can’t tell me that the hindsight revelation, “All I said to you, all I did for you seems so silly to me now”, from ‘The Cure‘ isn’t something that we’ve all been through at one time or another.
As a whole, this album has a distinctly ’80s feel to it. ‘Alligator‘ for one, bears a strong resemblance to Madonna’s ‘Holiday‘. In fact, a good portion of the tracks remind me of specific ’80s songs that I can’t quite distinguish. It’s driving me nuts (in a good way), and leads me to think that song titles like ‘The Cure’ and the mention of “a material girl” in ‘Paperback Head‘ are no coincidence.
Sainthood can be described as a throwback to So Jealous, but kicked up a few notches. Its use of synthesizers, keyboards and cleaner, harsher guitar and drums really sets it apart from its predecessors. Each track is packed full of instrumental and vocal layers, which Tegan and Sara really push on the closing track ‘Someday‘. This song is overstuffed and gets purposely ugly and disjointed at times. It’s almost like a test to see how much the listener will tolerate. For that very reason, I’ve gone back and forth between liking and disliking this song, depending on my mood.
From its inception, Sainthood has been publicly linked to the legendary Leonard Cohen, especially since the title is inspired by his lyrics for ‘I Came So Far For Beauty’.  Though this could have been a well-publicized flop, they managed to pull off yet another album that will likely bring both critical and public acclaim. If you get the chance, check them out on tour; they’ll be playing the album in full at many of their dates.
(Original publication: Bring Back the Boom Box Magazine November 1, 2009)


About J2

What happens when you're a wordsy music aficionado who works for NXNE, CMW, HPX, Olio Music Festival, The JUNOs and Polaris Music Prize? You spend all of your free time blogging about it... Follow on Twitter if you're so inclined: @HearPlugged

Posted on February 17, 2011, in Album Reviews and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 1 Comment.

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