Tegan and Sara attempt the leap from indie songwriters to mainstream stardom

Chris Duncan

Sisters Tegan and Sara Quin were treading water on their oddly stale 2013 release Heartthrob. But the lack of innovation had less to do with the pair's efforts and more to do with their budding relationship with mainstream pop.

There was a time when Tegan and Sara were the most exciting duo to hit the indie scene since The White Stripes. Their cult following grew immensely throughout the past decade, and for good reason — the two created some beautifully textured pop songs while staying true to their roots.

Now, popular music has caught on to Tegan and Sara’s sound and wants a piece of the pie. Instead of establishing a symbiotic relationship, where Tegan and Sara would gain some fame in return for helping progress mainstream music as a whole, a parasitic relationship developed with stars such as Ariana Grande and Rihanna taking on “experimental” directions, leaving Tegan and Sara with almost no room to explore.

In an attempt to break new ground and squirm out of their contract, Tegan and Sara turned in a completely opposite direction. Each song on their newest album, Love You to Death, has an obvious similarity in structure and sound, but the entire project is thematically more mature than anything the group has done before.

Every pop star sings of heartbreak, but lyrics on songs such as “Dying to Know” and “Stop Desire” are nearly unfiltered. “Dying to Know” is particularly haunting – dark emotions drive the song to uncharted and revealing territory.

Most of Tegan and Sara’s previous songs wouldn’t find a home on Love You to Death, but that’s for the better. The serious subject matter littered throughout the album brings the twins back to the true singer-songwriters they are, focusing on substance over style instead of the anthemic trend of songs such as “Closer” from Heartthrob.

And this substance is unrelenting. Beyond the synths, Tegan and Sara carry seriously blunt discussions about modern relationships. Of all the songs here, “100x” hits hardest – it might not be as bleak as “Dying to Know,” but its representation of a failed relationship is as straightforward as it gets.

But this new direction comes at a cost – fans gained from recent releases will likely get lost in the fodder of this project. It’s impossible to imagine a fan of “Everything is Awesome,” Tegan and Sara’s hit “The Lego Movie,” enjoying a single cut from Love You to Death.

Mature pop hits already exist in the modern pop scene. Night Terrors of 1927 is just one example of the many bands that have nailed down a brutally honest mantra along with some infectious sounds. It would have been more refreshing to hear Tegan and Sara turn more playful rather than serious.

Taken on its own, Love You to Death has a very precise set of emotions. Although it’s easy to appreciate their efforts, the album lacks any of the compromise of the earlier music that made the Quin sisters so easily loved. Dedicated fans may call this album a fresh take on the duo’s changing direction, but few new fans will be made with this LP.

No matter the results of Love You to Death, it’s still refreshing to see Tegan and Sara revert to their indie ways – whether that be to small-scale or mainstream success. However, if they want to stay in the forefront of pop, they’re going to have to break new ground quickly or be remembered for hitting their peak a decade ago.

Love You to Death

  • Artist: Tegan and Sara
  • Genre: Indie pop
  • Tracks: 10
  • Rating: 6/10