Twin sister act Tegan and Sara are back with their sixth studio album, Sainthood. But don't be fooled by the album title; you won't find any songs about the good Lord here. Instead, Tegan and Sara are working with a secular interpretation of sainthood -- a lover practicing being a saint (i.e. being faithful, honest, and devoted) only to become a martyr to yet another failed romance. Got that? Sure, their theme is a bit heavy-handed, but it's good to see the band moving into more intellectual territory.
Signed to Vapor Records back in 2000 by none other than Neil Young, T&S have been making their specific brand of thorny love-pop for almost a decade. But, with Sainthood, the siblings have strayed from the formula of their past records a bit and tried something new: writing songs together. You would think that, after sharing a womb, DNA, and facial features, sharing a creative space wouldn't be an issue. Think again. The duo have openly admitted to having a contentious relationship and live in separate cities (Tegan in Vancouver and Sara in Montreal). Nevertheless, in November 2008, they spent some time in New Orleans exploring whether they could find a way to work together, which resulted in a handful of songs, only one of which made the album ("Paperback Heart"). But it wasn't a complete wash: in conjunction with Sainthood, T&S are self-publishing three supplemental photobooks titled ON / IN / AT. Seems like a bit of sibling bickering does wonders for productivity.
Another new approach Tegan and Sara have undertaken with this album is recording in the studio with a full band, which makes for a fuller, more rock-oriented sound on tracks like "On Directing," "The Ocean," and "Alligator." And, with help from producer Chris Walla of Death Cab for Cutie, they've also started toying around with synths, the best results appearing on "Red Belt" and album opener "Arrow."
Tegan and Sara's confessional and hyper-analytic lyrics ruminate on obsessive romantic behavior and their songs often sound like a teenager's angsty diary entries as a result. But, on certain songs, this seems intentional, as if the sisters are making a statement about how love makes a foolish teen out of all of us. "Go steady with me/ I know it turns you off when I get talking like a teen," Sara admits on "On Directing." And on the propulsive first single "Hell," Tegan sings, "These words get overused," as if conceding that treating every heartbreak like it's the first is inappropriately maudlin for someone verging on their thirtieth birthday (the Quin twins are 29).
Self-aware moments like these suggest that T&S see through the idealized brand of romance we treasure as lovelorn adolescents. Unfortunately, they are few and far between. Weepy teen anthems like "The Cure," "Sentimental Tune," and "Someday" make it seem as though the sisters can't move beyond their addiction to naive lovesickness. If only they could muster up the strength to step out of the jilted victim's shoes and into the steel-toed boots of the heartbreaker. Now that would be interesting.