Date: August 11, 2002
Headline: If It Was You - Tegan and Sara - Vapor Records

There’d be a lot of reasons to dismiss Tegan and Sara Quin. If the fact that the pair are twin sisters didn’t tempt gimmickry, the duo’s folk-rock/pop hybrid, which brings to mind the sounds of Ani DiFranco, and the rootsy arrogance of folky strummers could do it. Or maybe the twins’ age - barely out of their teens, they ought to be caught up in teenybopper angst songs - will be the straw that breaks the camel’s back.

Forget all the jaded reasons to dismiss the Canadian twins out of hand. They’ll simply be crushed by the pair’s sophomore effort, If It Was You, as the pair drops an album that neatly skips over any of the problems that could derail the duo. It’d be easy for the twins to focus on any of the obvious angles, take the easy road and reap the spoils of gimmicks. They don’t: If It Was You is a slab of folk-rock songwriting that’s darn near impeccable.

While the pair’s blend of folk rock and guitar pop superficially suggests the acousta-grrrl folk of DiFranco (particularly the gravel-and-smoke vocals), Tegan and Sara never twiddle off into the folky excesses or arty, self-indulgent guitar work of DiFranco. In fact, unlike nearly all of folk-pop acts, the two always keep their listeners’ ears at the top of the list of priorities on this record. Whether they play it loose with guitars that lean heavily on folk with rhythm tracks that consist only of hand claps - eat your heart out John Mellencamp! - ("Not Tonight"), let intimate acoustic guitars suddenly explode into power-pop electrics that pack a bite ("You Went Away") or simply let each twin’s distinctive voice blend into tight ice-water harmonies ("And Darling"), If It Was You wisely puts all its eggs into its pop basket.

As pop as the duo’s output is, Tegan and Sara avoid the bleeding-heart themes of adolescent pain for songs with wisdom far beyond their meager years. Whether they painfully disclose furthering a faltering relationship’s decline with an emotional breakdown ("City Girl") or dwell in the silence of a ruined love affair ("I Hear Voices"), there’s nothing high school about the dramas the pair lay down.

It’s enough to make this record a heavy-hitter for the Canadian duo. Pop charms may get Tegan and Sara into listeners’ ears, but their honesty and unfettered passion is what will get them into our hearts.