From Indie to Synth Pop - Tegan and Sara's Genre Journey
Twin sisters Tegan and Sara Quin have been making music together since they were 18 years old. Now, at age 36, they have 7 studio albums, 3 demo albums and an EP. Not only do they have a large amount of music out there, but that music has switched genres more times than the twins have switched hairstyles. Listening to Sainthood, for example, is nothing like listening to Under Feet Like Ours. Now, if you've never listened to Tegan and Sara, but want to start, it may seem like a daunting task - where do you begin? Which songs are the best to listen to to get a feel for each album? What if I like one album but not another? Not to worry - Up To Tempo is here to help you sift through over a decade of music, and lead you through the ever-shifting genres of Tegan and Sara.
The Yellow Tape/The Red TapeIn 1997 Tegan and Sara started out using their school's recording studio to record two demos. Then, in 1998, they won Calgary's "Garage Warz" competition. The prize was studio time, which they used to record two more demos - the "Yellow Tape" and the "Red Tape." At this time, they were going by the name Sara and Tegan, and this seems to fit - the music we hear on these tapes sounds nothing like the Tegan and Sara of today. Accompanied only by two acoustic guitars and the occasional percussion, it's raw, and angsty, and everything that music by two teenagers should be.
Key Track: Hello
Under Feet Like Ours
It only gets angstier from there. In 1999 Tegan and Sara's debut album, "Under Feet Like Ours," is where the twins' raspy voices hit their prime. This album has that singer-songwriter vibe that seems to hit you somewhere deep in your soul. Songs like "Divided" tell the tale of sibling strife - this was a time in the career of Tegan and Sara where the two were constantly at odds with one another, and nearly stopped making music together for good. The last track on the album, Heavy, features some of Sara Quin's best vocals.
This Business of Art
In 2000 came "This Business of Art." Though this album is very similar to its predecessor - lots of acoustic guitar, lots of growling - things start to shift. The twins started adding more instruments like harmonica, bass and electric guitar, and their songs start to pick up in tempo. There are a lot more catchy hooks on this particular album, and the fact that it was released through Neil Young's record label makes for a cleaner sound.
Key Track: Freedom
Key Track: Freedom
If It Was You
Things start to shift in the 2002 album "If It Was You." This is when things start to move away from the singer/songwriter genre and more into an indie rock genre - with emphasis on the "rock" in some songs. The girls start to make more use of harmonies and start to drift away from the raspiness of their voices, though in songs like "Time Running" Tegan still hangs onto that classic growl. This album's sound is more aggressive than angsty, with hard electric guitar riffs and loud drums. As Tegan sings in "You Went Away," "My loud guitar comes in and my thumpin' drums come through."
Key Track: Time Running
Key Track: Time Running
In 2004 came "So Jealous" and with it, the final step into full on indie rock. At this point the twins had completely let go of that angry rasping growl and started using more keyboards. Their single off the album, titled "Walking With A Ghost," was covered by The White Stripes and launched them on their way to the mainstream.
Key Track: Walking With A Ghost
Tegan and Sara released their fifth studio album in 2007. It was produced by Death Cab For Cutie's Chris Walla and featured Jason McGerr, also of Death Cab For Cutie, Matt Sharp of The Rentals and Weezer, Hunter Burgan of AFI and Kaki King. This is an indie rock album all the way, but you can hear the twins' love of synths even here.
Key Track: The Con
Spin Magazine gave Tegan and Sara's sixth studio album four out of five stars and said their music "may no longer be the stuff of teens, but its strength remains in how much it feels like two people talking." This is true, and the album definitely has the most mature feel of any before it. Like Sara sings in "On Directing," "Go steady with me, I know it turns you off when I get talkin' like a teen." This is a big kid album made by a band that's been in the game for a while. This album continues to show a love of keyboards and synths, but still keeps those guitar riffs we got to know on "If It Was You."
Key Track: On Directing
With a title that references the way we view the objects of our affections as teens, this album is full of love songs that seem almost retrospective in nature, like the sisters are looking back on the feelings of their teen years.This album has the most different sound of any other Tegan and Sara album, and seems to have a heavy pop influence - one that many fans did not approve of. According to Pitchfork, many people accused the duo of "selling out" with this album full of radio-friendly pop hits. But, if you look back at their transformation through previous albums, it's possible they were always on their way to making this album - it was just a matter of when they did it.
Key Track: Now I'm All Messed Up
Love You To Death
Tegan and Sara's 2016 album, "Love You To Death," is just as much the synth pop album that Heartthrob is, maybe even more so - but it also seems to have aspects of the 80s pop artists the duo has always been influenced by. Songs like "Faint of Heart" have a vaguely Cyndi Lauper feel, with the poppy synths and lovey-dovey lyrics, and Lauper is an artist the duo has frequently cited as an influence.
Key Track: Faint of Heart
It's safe to say that listening through each of Tegan and Sara's albums from the beginning is like watching them grow up. The difference between their first album and their most recent is impossible to deny, and while many bands and artists stick to the same genre or sound for their entire careers, Tegan and Sara are not afraid to push the boundaries of their sound and embrace creativity. We can only imagine what they have in store next.