reviewed by Laura Stanley
In the throes of my awkward adolescent years, Tegan & Sara’s The Con was released. It was 2007 and I was beginning to shake off the faux-goth attire that had been a staple in my pre-teen and early teenage wardrobe. Though the colourful American Eagle/Abercrombie/Hollister polo shirts cut through my mass of black clothing (with and without chains and studs), the typical teenage angst could not be replaced as easily.
Like many, the emo-indie-pop-rock sound that had begun to crop up in the early 2000s was an easy step for me to take after leaning on emo-pop-punk bands (too embarrassing to name here) a few years earlier. The Bellingham, Washington band Death Cab For Cutie was the mainstay in both the rise of the music trend itself and the reason why I fell in love with its sound.
When I heard that DCFC’s guitarist Chris Walla and drummer Jason McGerr were involved in the production of the new record from Tegan & Sara, I was intrigued. Pair this with my emotional attachment in the medical drama Grey’s Anatomy, numerous songs from Tegan & Sara’s 2004 record So Jealous are used in the show’s early seasons, and congratulations, I’m invested.
More bitter than the beer being consumed during those same teen years, The Con stayed with me like a coating on the tongue, a taste in my mouth that when I re-listen to the record today, comes back to me.
The Con is the product of a period of emotional struggle for both Tegan and Sara. Following the death of their grandmother and varying relationship issues, The Con remains the darkest Tegan & Sara record to date. Between the title track – with the repetition of, “Nobody likes to but I really like to cry/ Nobody likes me/Maybe if I cry”- “Hop A Plane” and the line – “All I need to hear is that you’re not mine,” all of “Dark Come Soon,” and pretty much every moment in between, The Con carries tears, frustration, anxiety, and uncertainty. It feels so heavy but to dive into that darkness feels liberating. I’m not alone.
Despite their obvious similarities, the melancholic tapestry throughout The Con is woven by two very distinct voices that have only grown in following releases. Although it’s not always the case (see Tegan’s “Soil, Soil,” or Sara’s “Back In Your Head”) Tegan’s songs are often straightforward pop songs while Sara’s tend to be more complex.
Tegan’s title track, “Nineteen” and “Call It Off,” all fan favourites, are incredibly catchy folk-pop songs that don’t lose their fragility or sacrifice their emotional power. Long before “Same Love” came out, Sara’s “I Was Married” is an under appreciated anthem. Grappling with love and hate, the song reaches new heights with the lyric, “I look into the mirror for evil that just does not exist. I don’t see what they see. (tell them that, tell them that).” Other Sara songs, “Knife Going In” and “Like O, Like H” in particular, pair more carefully worded lyrics with arrangements that push the band as a whole out of their comfort zone.
After all, The Con is Tegan & Sara testing their use of electronic elements. They are subtle and buried underneath sadness but they are there. What is not hidden, and what really has never been hidden (see If It Was You and So Jealous), is how Tegan & Sara know how to write a pop song.
The Con is the bridge between their albums with a darker folk-rock sound, Sainthood‘s flirtation with synth-pop, and of course their mainstream sugary pop smash hit, Heartthrob. It’s dark, dense, angsty, unapologetic, and still wonderfully poppy. The perfect combination.
Top Tracks: “I Was Married,” “The Con,” “Call It Off”
Rating: Hunting Call (Excellent) + *swoop*