Review: Tegan and Sara – Heartthrob (2013)

Of all the bands I’ve followed thus far in my 27 years of living, very few are currently at the seven album mark. In fact, a lot of the bands in my high school and college years aren’t even making music anymore. And of the ones that are, maybe only a handful can make a convincing case that their best music is still ahead of them.

Tegan and Sara fall into that very select, elite category; they have defied the volatility and ever-changing trends of the music industry. They’ve been releasing catchy and meaningful pop music for nearly fifteen years. It seems with each new album they release, there is the same valid and fitting question: is this album better than the last? In the case of Tegan and Sara, yes, there is a solid argument that the music and songs just keep getting better. Most artists can’t do that, and if they can, it’s not for seven albums.

Heartthrob is the seventh studio album from the identical twin sisters out of Calgary, Alberta, Canada. It’s the follow-up to 2009’s Sainthood, which found the duo surfacing a more polished and mature sound, but fundamentally, it was still the beloved and crafty pop-rock songs that Tegan and Sara fans have enjoyed for years. Heartthrob, however, is a noticeable shift. It’s an electronic departure from their more familiar  traditional rock-based sound. On their latest release, the Quin sisters make a conscious effort to mix things up, and they pull it off in a way few bands could.

Most songs on Heartthrob are uptempo, synth-heavy and engulfed in dance-friendly beats. Even on the saddest ones you can find yourself doing a little atmospheric bump and grind. So the immediate question is “What happened?” Weren’t Tegan and Sara once acoustic guitar-wielding singer-songwriters?

Believe it or not, it’s the same Tegan and Sara, and with subsequent listens of Heartthrob that becomes evident. Relatable, honest lyrics delivered through catchy melodies has always been the backbone of the duo’s music. It’s just with Heartthrob, that musical pillar gets a very fresh facelift.

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9e9NSMY8QiQ&w=560&h=315]

“Closer” kicks off the album with an infectious ‘80s groove. It’s a fun pop tune about taking things to the next level and it works well as a first single. The album content doesn’t stop at that depth though. The stark and yearning “Now I’m All Messes Up” offers a revealing glimpse into the helpless distress of a breakup’s unraveling attachment: “Now I’m all messed up, sick inside wondering who/ Whose life you’re making worthwhile.”  The piano-peppered, retro-fused ballad “I Was a Fool,” similarly tackles the bruised reminders of what’s left after a relationship.

The excited dance jam “Drove Me Wild” and slower, stripped-down “Love They Say” both encompass the positive and enduring aspects of love and romance. With Tegan and Sara, it always seems you’re getting either a heartbreak song, a love song, or one that masterfully entangles the two conflicted feeling together. “Goodbye, Goodbye” is a good example of the combo.  In one corner there is the notion to move on and let go. But on the other hand, there’s still a lingering desire to leave a window open: “With some time, I might wanna see the way that you’ve changed/ With some time, I might wanna see how you fared, what you can’t replace. “ Overall, I’m impressed with the lyrics and songwriting on Heartthrob. With its electronic vibe, the craft isn’t as apparent as it is on past albums, but that doesn’t mean it’s not there.

Tegan and Sara tried something new with Heartthrob. I know some fans will take that as a detriment to what Tegan and Sara have done thus far, but I feel most will see the change for what it is— a chance to explore different sounds and tell their lyrical stories through a fresh composition. And after nearly fifteen years of creating lovable and compelling music, I think the Quins can afford to experiment a little. Heartthrob is a fantastic seventh album from Tegan and Sara, and it’s getting to the point where— should we be expecting anything less?

Tegan and Sara
Official | iTunes

Rating: 8.6/10
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