Tegan & Sara, ‘Sainthood’: The Autostraddle Review

tegansara_possessedwebA few weeks ago we were lucky enough to persuade the good people at Warner to hook us up with an advance copy of Tegan & Sara’s new album Sainthood, and our favorite lesbian twins have been on high rotation in the virtual Autostraddle music office ever since. Not being the kind of website that likes to hold out, Intern Emily and I have decided to process our many feelings about this album and give you a glimpse into the very near future.

First a brief Crystal PSA: As you’ve probably heard, as of yesterday, some asshat has leaked Sainthood. I know some of you may feel like you’ve been waiting a lifetime for this album, but please fight the urge to download it early. Or if you already have, be a champ and pre-order it. I’m going to save you the lecture on the impact that illegal downloads and pre-release leaks have on your favourite artists. So just be aware that Tegan & Sara are going to stream the album on October 20, and that’s only a short wait. Ask yourself: “What Would Tegan & Sara Do?”

But back to the review. We come from two different places, Emily and I. She’s has an intimate knowledge of this band that allows her to do remarkable things like identify a Tegan song from a Sara song after only hearing a bar from 2oo yards away. I cannot do this. I enjoy Tegan & Sara enough to own all of their albums, however I still don’t understand some of The Con and I probably never will. So by combining our opinions, we hope to deliver a well-rounded review.

But before we begin, a few special announcements:

1. Autostraddle is giving away 10 copies of Sainthood. Want one? Visit our competition page to win.

2. Remember when I said we don’t hold out? Only partly true. All I can say is that we’re bringing you something special over the next few days. What could it be?! The suspense!
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sainthoodcoverSainthood, Tegan & Sara

Release date: October 23 & 27, 2009


“Would you take a straight and narrow critical look at me?” questions Sara Quin, in the opening line of the long-awaited sixth studio album, Sainthood. It’s a classic encapsulation of everything we relate to about Tegan & Sara — humility regardless of success and a kind of venerability and self-awareness that reminds us of well … us. They’re perceptive to their fans’ desires, and their fans desire a specific strand of a simultaneously neurotic yet hopeful willingness to be looked at. Tegan & Sara have developed an incredibly loyal fan base, especially in the lesbian community, and this is due to both their really good music and their really genuine & relatable personalities.

After a decade of recording, Tegan & Sara still stand firm in their approach: lyrical nostalgia and pack-a-punch choruses driven by edgy harmonies, propulsive beats, choppy guitar riffs and healthy serves of rhythmic repetition. But that’s not to say that this album is The Con, repackaged. For one, those piano-led ballads and slower acoustic tracks are gone, now replaced with up tempo synth pop grooves that just beg you to tap your feet and sing along.

These girls have challenged themselves, and it’s paid off.

Produced by Death Cab‘s Chris Walla (The Con) and The New Pornographers‘ Howard Redekopp (So Jealous), Sainthood sounds created from larger, slightly more indulgent studio ambitions; thicker textures, pulsating synths and inspired arrangements can be found in tracks that are considerably more produced without being over-crafted. I could throw many many more superlatives at you, but what I want to tell you above all else is that these girls have challenged themselves, and it’s paid off. For us, too. They’ve worked hard so that we don’t have to. They’ve also affirmed once again what they’ve been brilliant at from the beginning – to evolve without losing the urgent pop-laden hooks and emotion-fueled lyrics that made many of you fall for them in the first place.

“One thing I find about Tegan and Sara songs is that, on the surface, they’re easy to write off as simple or repetitive. If you listen to Tegan and Sara as background music you will never be able to fully appreciate them. Writing this review forced me to listen closely to each song and I rediscovered what I, and probably all of you, already know: Tegan and Sara are so fucking good.” – Intern Emily

ts-sound-city-outtakes-10There’s something fundamentally more mature about this record. For one, there’s that Sainthood theme. The title and concept — a hat tip to the prolific Leonard Cohen and his ballad ‘Came So Far for Beauty’ – is best explained by the band themselves: “Inspired by emotional longing and the quiet actions we hope may be noticed by the objects of our affection, Sainthood is about obsession with romantic ideals. We practice our sainthood in the hope that we will be rewarded with adoration.”

The result? A collection of love songs. Love that’s been lost, found, enjoyed, forgotten, unrequited, desired... onstage at the Rifflandia festival last month, Tegan acknowledged that even the songs that are not about love are metaphors for love.

Sainthood was hyped to be the first time we’d hear Tegan & Sara’s songwriting powers combine – however only one co-written track, Paperback Head, made it to the track list. It’s a good track, however I enjoy their individual contributions far more. One of this band’s strengths is their ability to offer up two individual sounds and styles keeps their record fresh, giving their fans a healthy divide that we know makes for the best Tegan & Sara forum fodder. We feel free to play favourites, and so most of us do. For the record, I prefer Tegan’s songs. Emily, on the other hand, favours Sara’s.

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How much?

You may have noticed that I’ve avoided writing specifically about each Sainthood track. This is because once the album has streamed online, super fan Intern Emily is going to come back to this page and break this album down track-by-track for you. So make sure you check back here after October 21st and join in the discussion.

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Crystal is Autostraddle's HR Director. She resides in Sydney, Australia, where she wears black clothing almost exclusively and listens to Green Day as enthusiastically as she did at 13.

Crystal has written 294 articles for us.

33 Comments

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    I LOVE Tegan and Sara and can’t wait for the CD to come out (I will though , I strongly agree with purchasing rather than illegal downloads, especially for your fav artists) I hope I win! Going to see the at Town Hall in 2 weeks!

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    I can’t wait for the album to start streaming. When I heard that the album had leaked I had no desire to go and download it, just because I told myself I wanted to listen to it when Tegan and Sara allowed us to listen to it. I want to be a good fan like that. Even tho I haven’t heard the actual album, I’ve been listening to the 30 second clips on Amazon, and they’ve made me so damn excited! I also favor Sara’s songs to Tegan’s, but Tegan’s songs are sounding really good. The album is seeming so different from The Con and I’m happy about that. Not because I didn’t love The Con, because I did, but I just like to know that they’re growing and exploring their musical abilities.

    I’m SO going to be back for the track by track review. I love this!

    -Yvette

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      Yeah me too, I always feel like I’m cheating when I look at something that’s been leaked, like I’m hurting the artist personally. But I always thought I was a weirdo like that. also it sucks ’cause sometimes what gets released isn’t done yet, and I want to hear it like you said, when Tegan and Sara want me to hear it.

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    I pre-ordered the album on iTunes, plus bought the deluxe package (with the books and the ink blot autograph) but I could not help but download the album when I found out it was leaked (I’m sorry Tegan and Sara). I’ve been a fan since I was 15 (25 now, jesus)and am loving this album. Go team Sara! (But I like you too, team Tegan.)

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    I have been listening to this record on repeat since the day after it was leaked… when I finally broke down, because of a stressful day, and downloaded it. I have pre-ordered it.. for the record. Actually twice lol. I bought the Itunes version as well because of the extra tracks and because I love supporting them that much ha. I was actually really surprised with this record. It took time to warm to it because I was approaching it from the wrong angle… Its completely different from the con. which makes me realize one of the main reasons i respect and admire them so much is there versatility. Its a new sound. A solid sound. One that will make them big. Which selfishly makes me feel sad but also happy for them. To me in my life they represent integrity, they never disappoint. They always challenge themselves and work hard. I’m 18, female and gay, so they have a huge impact and I’m glad they are out there to rely on.

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    Great article, I’m in for the freebie! I fell in love with Sara & Tegan ! and their music since day one when I worked on a show with them in ’01. (gloat, gloat – they were the same off-stage – wysiwyg.)

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