Music Reviews

Tegan and Sara Heartthrob

(Warner Bros. Records) Rating - 6/10

Tegan and Sara recently broke the ten-year mark as a band, with their debut having come out in 1999. It’s also their first record since the twins hit the age of 30. In a Rolling Stone interview, Sara Quin said that their previous record, Sainthood, was the closing on an era for the duo, meaning that fans could expect something different going forward. The Quins certainly kept true to that promise.

Heartthrob is nearly unrecognizable when compared to the group’s previous records. Whereas those were filled with guitars, pianos and other live instrumentation, this LP is awash in synthesizers and dance melodies. While their gift for melodies and vocal harmonies remain intact, this change isn’t quite a home run.

Things kick off incredibly well with the first single, Closer. Electronica fills the speakers both as background bedding and as an upbeat body-moving rhythm. Then the chorus kicks in and everything is shifted up a gear. Drums pound away in the back as Tegan and Sara promise that they won’t treat you “so typical.” Although it may turn off some of their rock fans, the power of this chorus is undeniable, especially when the voices go up an octave to a passionate plea.

I Was A Fool displays how the old and new styles of Tegan and Sara can mix wonderfully. A delicate, classical piano is subsidized by little electronic touches that hang in the backdrop. The chorus throws in more synths but it’s a gentle touch, where guitars slip through into the mix. The synths don’t pound you into submission, working with the other instruments rather than overwhelming them. I Couldn’t Be Your Friend works in a similar fashion. The keys sound like a faster version of Two Weeks by Grizzly Bear. The live instrumentation and vocal play in the chorus makes this track another standout. The two voices meld into each other, but also throw out backing alternate melody lines.

On the other hand, the two sisters haven’t quite found the balance needed to make Heartthrob a great record. Far too often, the electronics overwhelm everything else, making many tracks sound indistinguishable from each other. Goodbye, Goodbye will just make you want to listen to Closer again. Love They Say starts off with a mix of acoustic guitars and twinkling synths, but the latter overwhelms the former so much in the chorus that the guitars might as well not be there at all. Shock To Your System opens with an industrial bass, like an Depeche Mode track from the early 80s. But once you get to the verses and chorus, the generic synths are back.

This record certainly isn’t bad by any means. Tegan and Sara can still make strong songs, no matter what the instrument is. The tones of these synths are so alike, though, that they hold back the writing process. This was an interesting direction to go in and it definitely has a lot of potential. But the duo will need to do a better job balancing the synths and the songs to succeed.