Tegan and Sara’s musical progression has been perhaps the most logical of any group in the 21st century. Beginning as a poppy indie-folk group, they jumped to a more electric, instrumentally varied sound for 2007’s The Con before turning to new wave for Sainthood in 2009 and then finally, 2013’s synthpop-influenced Heartthrob. These transitions have been easy to predict, yet rewarding, and they have neatly settled into each new sound for the most part.
At the same time, the reactions from fans to these different changes have been divided, with some screaming “sellout” as early as The Con. Others have at least waited until the addition of synthesizers (or, *gasp*, performing with Taylor Swift) to start protesting. But ultimately, the flaws in Tegan and Sara albums are usually not related to style, but content. Heartthrob was a disappointment because its songs felt self-conscious, with the hooks and verses feeling stacked on top of each other as opposed to being tightly written into complete songs. It was sugary, but it wasn’t particularly substantial, especially compared to the work that influenced it.
Love You to Death, the Quin sisters’ new album, initially seems like a repeat of that album; it features a similar sound, as well as the return of producer Greg Kurstin, who worked on most of the songs on Heartthrob. But after the underwhelming opening cut “That Girl,” it gets to a four-song stretch better than much of the previous album. “Faint of Heart” features a simple but effective hook—“This love ain’t made for the faint of heart”—but also verses strong enough to make the simplicity not only satisfying, but addicting. Songs like “Dying to Know” and “Stop Desire,” meanwhile, have tight structure, while the latter features a hook to rival nearly all on Heartthrob—“Tonight, if you fuel my fire/You can’t stop desire.”
The synthesizers, which sound better this time around, are partially responsible for the change in quality. But more than anything, what seems to have changed is intent. They’re not trying to make a pop album this time around, but rather a pop-heavy Tegan and Sara album. While the transition into synth-heavy music was an obvious one, that doesn’t mean it was easy, and it showed. Heartthrob tracks like “I Was a Fool” and “How Come You Don’t Want Me” contain memorable moments, but ultimately feel pieced together. Love You to Death is more cohesive, which may indicate that Tegan and Sara have finally grown into the sound. This record shows them submersing themselves in the pop waters they’d merely dipped their toes in last time.
Along with being a step up musically, Love You to Death also shows Tegan and Sara turning the previously implicit elements of gender and sexuality explicit on the single “Boyfriend” and the anti-marriage-but-pro-love “BWU.” These songs are the biggest highlights on an album with several, and only partially because of the words. They also happen to be the catchiest and most melodically striking; in fact, “BWU” has their most melodic chorus since “Alligator,” and ultimately, that’s what Heartthrob was missing: melodies. Something to hold together the surplus of hooks. Something to keep things grounded.
Despite being an improvement, Love You to Death is far from perfect. “White Knuckles” suffers from the same problems as the weaker cuts from Heartthrob, with a chorus (“I cried wolf/Howled it at the moon”) that’s as out of place as it is unimaginative. “100x” is a slow piano ballad that isn’t bad, but would have fit in more on the duo’s early albums. Love You to Death also continues the trend of Tegan and Sara albums rarely containing satisfying closers. “Hang on to the Night” ends things on a disappointing note, especially considering that “U-Turn,” which comes right before it, would have been a fine closing track.
Nevertheless, this is a consistently good release from a consistently good group. Whether they decide to continue with this style on their next album or move on to something new hardly matters, since they’ve proven to be capable of composing catchy, well-written songs in every genre they’ve attempted.