Five years on, Michael Clark reviews Tegan and Sara’s hit album The Con.
The Con is Tegan and Sara’s fifth studio album. Emerging from the Canadian music scene in the late ’90s, musical twin sisters number one and two have built up a large following after over a decade of performing, recording, and intermittently suffering truly awful haircuts. They both write their own songs, sing, play guitar, and nowadays are signed to Universal Music Group, with a full band supporting them where previously they had no one but themselves to get out on the road and play to whoever would listen. Thanks to their attitude and their perseverance, people are definitely listening now.
What started out as an acoustic-rap outfit (not kidding) has gradually changed from more simple and minimal singer-songwriter origins to harnessing the power of extra musicians throwing electric noise around. In writing the Con neither member collaborated musically, instead solely writing their songs and producing them with help from Christopher Walla, Death Cab for Cutie guitarist. You can really tell. He has brought a fantastic and original sound to The Con that has not been replicated anywhere else in the band’s history… and it’s a good history, by the way.
If the Con is sibling rivalry set to music, as Tegan and Sara try to constantly one-up each other, it is very difficult to name a victor. Tegan has the earnest Nineteen, with its stop and start drumbeat and its piercing harmonies, but Sara has Like O, Like H, which rattles eerily through layers of vocals and synths. You can’t help but be creeped out by Sara’s lyrics. “SOS to my mother/Take the hinges off the door.” But then Tegan pulls it back on the very next track with Dark Come Soon, a more conventional but beautiful floaty tune.
Call it Off maybe seals the deal. “Maybe you would’ve been something I’d be good at” sings Tegan, shimmery guitars hanging in the background as the beat urgently ticks away to sweet synths that mix strikingly with Tegan’s sad whispers. It’s a far cry from Hop a Plane, her pop punk romp that explodes from nowhere and leaves you confused and a little tired from those frantic moves you threw before you knew what was happening.
There is an unearthly scan to many of Sara’s best tunes – Relief Next to Me and Knife Going In in particular – that Tegan matches, sometimes in slow melodic numbers and other times in thrashy singalongs. Tegan complains that her own songs are straightforward rock tunes whereas Sara’s songs are extremely complicated and weird little flashes of genius; and yet Sara wrote the most poppy and record-playable song on the record, Back in Your Head. This, by the way, has a worryingly appropriate name for a central hook that will plant itself in there for about six months at a time and absolutely refuse to leave.
With The Con, Tegan and Sara will wrap you around their really-very-similar fingers if you let them. (I should know; the combined listens on my ITunes for the tracks on this album come to about 300.) Every time you listen you will find something you missed before, and love the parts you already know. You can hear the effort expended, the time spent, the toil undergone, not just in making the album, but in the flashes of the songwriters’ lives that you can’t help but respond to emotionally and recognise as some kind of reflection of your own thoughts and your own experiences. So turn your speakers up. This is the kind of songwriting to appreciate. It seems to even have had positive effects on their haircuts, which are no longer terrible.
Images collated with photos by laurenglusckman.