I was warned going into the new Tegan and Sara album that Heartthrob would sound nothing like what I’m used to hearing from them. The way this information was passed on made it sound like the great doom of Canadian indie music had finally arrived—and I approached their seventh release with slight trepidation.
I was, needless to say, grossly misled. Yes, it’s true that the acoustic angst of So Jealous, the first album they would really sail to notoriety on, was largely gone. Even the new sound of The Con—which had vividly captured them even more attention and acclaim—was less than noticeable once you factored in how poppy Heartthrob was.
It shouldn’t come as a surprise. Everything’s gone pop these days, from punk to rock, to indie. And there’s no denying that pop done by two outstanding artists with over a decade of experience is a downright pleasure to listen to.
Hit “Closer” came out and made its way onto radio stations that have never played Tegan and Sara before, and people who had never heard their names were loading their songs into playlists—it was a large-scale recognition of pop music done well.
And it’s not as though they threw the baby out with the bathwater. There was a sense of rhythm to “Walking With a Ghost” that I can trace in “How Come You Don’t Want Me” and Heartthrob is, lyrically at least, very much in line with everything that has come before.
But where the duo gets creative is with the music, creating powerful moments that suit the emotional note of the song while managing to feel more whimsical and nostalgic. It seems as though they’re looking back while moving forward. “Now I’m All Messed Up” is a prime example of this—emotion breaks through the slight tweaking of the vocals, and the high notes of the keyboards stand in contrast to the meaning of the words without sounding facetious.
The Polaris Prize is supposed to recognize the best Canadian album of the year, and each year—to our credit—it’s always a difficult choice. One the judges have to make without regard to genre, labels, or charts. But I would take how quickly Heartthrob rose to popularity as an indication of how good it is. MTV has shown us how easy it is to whip up a pop song–and how temporary they are–but I’d say this album stands out as something far better than that. Months later, the lyrics still resonate and the music remains just as evocative. Regardless of genre and charts, it’s undeniably one of the finest albums of 2013.