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Tegan & Sara

The Track To Maturity

If the truckload of Canadian acts like Leslie Feist, the New Pornographers and all of Broken Social Scene that has recently been making waves hasn’t yet whetted your appetite for all things north of the border, then you’ll probably want to start paying more attention to Tegan & Sara. Having already toured extensively with big name acts like fellow Canadians Neil Young, Rufus Wainwright, and Americans Ben Folds, the Pretenders and Ryan Adams, the sisters will be hitting San Francisco’s own Brava Theatre on July 22 & 23 in support of their new album, The Con, released the following Tuesday.

The identical twins, born Sara and Tegan Quin (both of whom are lesbians), have previously released four official studio albums beginning with Under Feet Like Ours in 1999 and culminating with 2004’s So Jealous, which stands as their most critically successful release, being nominated for a Juno Award as Alternative Album of the Year. Releasing four well-received indie albums in the span of five years is no easy task, and the stakes of a burgeoning mainstream career steeped in the buzz of successful indie cred are not lost on the 27-year olds.

Throughout their first four albums, the band have cultivated their guitar-pop sensibilities with tight harmonies and slick drum and bass, but for The Con they knew they needed something new in order to progress their sound. Enter Death Cab For Cutie guitarist Chris Walla, whom the twins tapped to produce their new material. Speaking to Billboard Magazine, Walla reports, “They wanted something that was a little grittier.” What they had to work with were largely demos and other tracks written after 18 months of touring off the back of So Jealous.”

Written mostly apart, much of the material on their new album exhibits a melancholy tone. You can attribute that to the prolonged break they had from each other, or you can blame it on age. One thing is for certain. Prevalent through much of the record is a marked maturity. Of course, a band is only as good as the company it keeps. And after touring with such acts like the Killers and Hot Hot Heat, a little bit of outside influence was bound to seep in.

Title track, “The Con”, which starts out innocently enough with a sweet harmony on the back of a guitar refrain, soon dives headlong into a synth-driven hook reminiscent of New Wave revivalists. Similarly, the album’s first single, “Back In Your Head”, plops along with a carefree insouciance that is at once fresh and familiar, openly embracing a pop mentality but not altogether abandoning their indie sensibility.

Describing their recording process, the sisters reveal that they “focused on keeping the songs as close to the demos as possible.” Once key vocals, guitars and keyboards were laid, the duo called in another member of Death Cab, Jason McGerr, to provide percussion. Additional guests on the album include Hunter Burgan from AFI and Matt Sharp from the Rentals and Weezer.

It might appear aberrant that a band so young can be so seasoned with experience and lauded by its peers, but with Tegan and Sara, it really isn’t a surprise. The Rentals did a cover of the song “Not Tonight”. And in 2005, The White Stripes recorded and released a cover of “Walking With A Ghost”. Both are tracks off different previous releases, but each demonstrates how brand melodies as the ones Tegan and Sara champion can be eagerly translated into another band’s own sound without losing its author’s touch.

That’s a far cry from when they started out on the road, telling stories on stage in order to fill in gaps left by a scant repertoire. Now that they have much more material to work with, that is gladly no longer a problem. As they admit themselves, Tegan writes songs “like a fish lays eggs,” whereas Sara’s technique is more methodic and thought out, which is fine. After more than a decade of the tried and true, Tegan and Sara are happy to present their new material. The packaging and preparation may have been different this time around, but the product remains as original as ever. And therein lies a beautiful con.

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