Plumbiferous Media

Sainthood – Tegan and Sara

Oct 29th 2009
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Sainthood - Tegan and SaraTegan and Sara
Score: 83

Twins Tegan and Sara Quin, lead members of Tegan and Sara since 1995, have just released their newest full-length, Sainthood. Their sixth LP, Sainthood draws on a growing wealth of experience, and clearly shows it. Sainthood is short in all respects, with no track surpassing three and a half minutes, with the entire collection of tracks bordering on EP length. However, Tegan and Sara uses this shortness incredibly well to curb what would otherwise border on boredom-inducing repetitiveness.

As with most of their music, Tegan and Sara Quin share vocal duties on Sainthood. After five albums, they’ve polished their vocal interplay to a fairly impressive degree. The best tracks of Sainthood share the spontaneity of Tegan and Sara’s earlier work (especially “Northshore” and “Hell”) – the same slightly rough energy that made “Walking With a Ghost,” (from the sisters’ 4th album “So Jealous”) so successful. On a few tracks, however, the vocals almost approach the point of predictability – but in the end, the Quins’ distinct vocals break through.

Like much of indie-pop, Tegan and Sara’s music has always relied upon repetition. Sainthood is no exception, and many of its tracks center around oft-repeated choruses, beginning with the opening track, “Arrow,” on which “I take my aim / You feel me coming close / I take my aim so you feel me coming close” is repeated six times over three minutes. This is generally successful thanks to the energy put into the music through vocals and instrumentals, though on rare occasions it leads to a certain degree of stagnancy. Among this, Sainthood also contains the semi-poetic gems Tegan and Sara tends to include among the repetition. On “Arrow,” this takes the form of questions beginning the track: “Would you take a / Straight and narrow / Critical look at me? / Would you tell me tough love style? / Put judicial weight on me?” while on “Hell” it takes the form of wordplay: “No, we’re not ready for hell / Hell no.” The following track, the colorful “On Directing,” contains what is perhaps the most quintessentially Tegan and Sara-ish line of the album: “Go steady with me? / I know it turns you off when I / I get talking like a teen.” Simultaneously playful and amusing (if severely over-repeated) enough to be thought-provoking – it’s an indicator that Tegan and Sara’s creativity lives.

Much like the lyrics, the instrumentals rely on repetition, but do so quite carefully. Noticeable immediately from the opening track, whenever any line begins to shift from repetition to over-repetition, Tegan and Sara immediately changes the line, adds a new harmony on top of it, or if all else fails, ends the track. Furthermore, not only is the use of repetition carefully administered, but the band also insures that all lines are incredibly well balanced with each other. The obvious example is “Hell,” which has a threateningly loud drum part that Tegan and Sara then control through slight tone dampening.

Additionally, there are a number of exceptional points on Sainthood that deserve specific mention. One technique used sparingly but perfectly on the album is the combination at the end of a track (say, “Arrow”) of two of the main, contrasting sections previously used, which never fails to provide amazing harmonies and incredibly interesting interactions. It is no surprise, then, that one of the most impressive tracks on the album is “The Cure,” which uses similar harmonies and interactions throughout the track – although the section towards the center of the track that uses repeating, building descending sequences to create what are quite clearly the best chord progressions on the album trumps everything surrounding it.

The combination of creative vocals and lyrics, well-composed and orchestrated instrumentals (as well as carefully managed length) makes Sainthood a successful album. Five previous albums have obviously contributed to the careful construction of Sainthood – there are very few missteps, and the hallmarks of the duo’s music, vocal interplay and well-controlled repetition, are in full force. Tegan and Sara has created an album which manages to have the catchy appeal of pop with the introspection of rock – and which is simply enjoyable overall.

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