Tegan and Sara Search for “Sainthood”
“Go steady with me/I know it turns you off when I/I get talking like a teen,” croons Sara Quin in “On Directing.” However, there is nothing juvenile about Tegan and Sara’s sixth studio album, “Sainthood.”
It’s been nearly 10 years since the Canadian twin sisters’ first debuted, and they have come a long way from being dubbed an acoustic folk duo into indie rock darlings. Tegan and Sara described “Sainthood” as an album about “emotional longing and the quiet actions we hope may be noticed by the objects of our affection. “Sainthood” is about obsession with romantic ideals.” Inspired by the lyrics of Leonard Cohen’s 1979 ballad “Came So Far for Beauty:” “I practiced all my sainthood/ I gave to one and all/ But the rumors of my virtue/ They moved her not at all,” the album addresses secular practices of “devotion, delusion and exemplary behavior in the pursuit of love and relationships.”
To say the least, Tegan and Sara’s entire catalogue is in some way, shape or form about love that has been lost, discovered, cherished, forgotten, unrequited or desired. What distinguishes a great musician from a good musician is his or her ability to sing about common, repetitive themes, yet make them sound innovative, profound and personal.
Needless to say, Tegan and Sara have perfected this skill. As singer-songwriters, the two have evolved both musically and lyrically, even collaborating for the first time to co-write their first song, the synth-laden number dubbed “Paperback Head.” This time around, the sisters opted to take a more organic approach towards recording: rather than relying on overdubs, all the songs on the album were fleshed out with a full band in the studio.
Since they first started writing, the two self-confessed narcissists have never written a song that wasn’t about themselves; however, as lyricists, they have matured, as evidenced on the song “Night Watch,” where Sara describes her parent’s divorce through the perspective of their mother: “I’ve got ground for divorce/ It’s in my blood, this divorce/…/ Oh, I deserve this anguish on my house.” While on tracks such as “The Cure” and the album’s first single, “Hell,” the primary focus is Tegan’s neighborhood, Gastown, located in Vancouver, B.C, yet she admits that these songs are “really just metaphors for love.” Reverting back to their teenage punk influences, “Northshore” demonstrates Tegan’s inclination for urgent lyricism as she bellows, “Don’t heal/Don’t mend/ Don’t take/ Don’t send/ Don’t love me”. In “Alligator,” the infectious 1980’s-esque pop dance song, Sara incorporates her infamous cryptic lyrics, professing “Rattled yes, it’s true/ Alligator tears spilled over you.”
However, as beautifully crafted as this album is, songs like “The Ocean” and “Someday” seem to divert away from the poignant sound of momentous poeticism into a hasty jumbling of lyrics tightly packed into a melody that cannot hold them. Yet, matched with the beat of the charging drums and the tapping of the psychedelic keys, the lyrics of “Someday” provide the album with an optimistic closure.
In celebration of the Oct. 27 release of “Sainthood,”, Tegan and Sara played two shows at the Los Angeles’ Orpheum Theatre on Oct. 25 and 26, where they debuted their entire album live. It’s as simple as this: if you hate the record, or are even remotely ambivalent toward it, hearing the songs from “Sainthood” live will change your mind – especially with the charming sisters’ witty onstage banter. “Night Watch,” which for the first time features both the Quins on the keyboards simultaneously, translates extremely well live; while others such as “Northshore,” “Alligator” and “On Directing” had the audience excitingly bobbing their heads, or up and dancing – in a seated venue, mind you.
The encore consisted of the crowd pleasing folksy anthem, “Living Room,” which instantly had audience singing along. After Tegan thanked all the fans for coming out to their sold out show, she broke into the appropriately named “Call It Off” to close the show. Perhaps the Quins are a lot more clever than they are credited for, for as they exited the stage, they already had devoted fans practicing their sainthood by exercising exemplary behavior – in this case, a standing ovation – in hopes of the sisters return back on stage to give them more.