The Daily Northwestern

Canadian pop duo Tegan and Sara synthesizes radio success

Alex Burnham, Writer

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The accessible Canadian twin duo Tegan and Sara built on their fan base once more with an album marketed to alternative and New Wave listeners. The pair’s seventh studio album, “Heartthrob,” released Jan. 29 after a four-year lull in their production. This time around, the Calgary twins created a nostalgic dreamscape that references objects of relationships and capricious affections.

However, a majority of the album contains pop singles that are interchangeable in form and content. This gives the album more accessibility but reduces the sincerity of serious lyrics. Greg Kurstin, the producer of P!nk, Ke$ha and Kelly Clarkson fame, injected mega-pop gloss into the twin’s creations.

“Closer,” the album’s first single, was released in September to commercial success. In the electronically confined 3-minute-29-second song, the two sing about the physical attachment associated with romanticism. “It’s not just all physical … I won’t treat you like you’re oh so typical,” they repeat throughout choruses. Similar songs cover the same topic, about romance in the palms of hands, first times and goodbyes.

Sonically, the electronic complement often enhances songs on the album, as is the case with the dulled synthesizers that beep and pulse on “Goodbye, Goodbye.” Tegan and Sara have alternative lyrics, but their ability to introduce new sounds distinguishes them from other early millennial bands.

Yet the risk of this incorporation is failing to retain authenticity. Most radio-pop, indie-folk music lacks organic emotion. Because of this, listeners may lump the Canadian pair with other radio successes. But whenever the synthesizers stop, piano scales uncoil.

Granted, aspects of “Heartthrob” are radio successes, but there exists much more to the album than a desire to make money. Forceful rhythm and soulful vocals intertwine on many songs, changing the tracks into pleas for transformation.

The glitchy “Now I’m All Messed Up,” with its whirring, faded piano and static chorus, breaks a seeming superficiality. “Go! Go! Go if you want, I can’t stop you!” the sisters chant. The song evokes a breakup heartbreak — hopeful yet cognizant. “Go, please stay,” the song concludes in the final refrain.

The album exudes experience. Solitude and longing merge with understanding in the evocative ballads on “Heartthrob” that emerge from an empirical background. The juxtaposition of teenage romance and adult caprice almost doesn’t mesh, but somehow the duo successfully bridge distinct pillars of emotion.

“I’m not your hero, but that doesn’t mean I wasn’t brave,” they sing on “I’m Not Your Hero.” The duo demonstrates a keen consciousnessthat enables them to analyze heartbreak and continue to seek “how to get you underneath me.”

The album in its entirety captures the pair’s awareness and understanding of romantic issues, paring it into an accessible collection of tracks. On their seventh attempt to achieve musical perfection, Tegan and Sara come “a little bit closer.”

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