by Justin Kownacki
Thanks to Kelly for providing the article.
Have you ever met someone and known that you were going to date him/her from the moment he/she said hello? All this person had to do was live up to your first impression long enough to warrant seeing him/her again and you'd be sold? The same sensation applies when listening to "Time Running", the first track on If It Was You: "As long as these two don't fuck it up, this record will be golden," I thought. I'm both proud and relieved to say they held up their end of the bargain.
Sounding like the next step in the logical progression from Joan Jett to Gwen Stefani to... themselves, Tegan and Sara combine neo-riot grrrl attitude with lovelorn romanticism, gender issue conflicts seething beneath their fuzzy-yet-coarse pop. The gist of the album takes me back to 1996 or so, when I was a DJ on a college radio station and our playlist consisted of hook-laden underground sub-pop instead of the post-grunge rock scene we've been subjected to lately. Songs this melodic, infinitely catchy and cynically optimistic don't exist in the mainstream, but they damn well should.
In the Vanessa Carlton era, in which a songstress must be under twenty to be considered relevant, the 21 year-old Tegan and Sara pack their appropriately mature lyrics with a youthful, energized and emotion-driven delivery -- a lust-for-life antidote to the breathy, overwrought style currently in vogue. Truthfully, the sisters sound like a sassier 10,000 Maniacs or a Canadian-bred Cranberries (sans nationalistic fervor), far more accomplished and complete than one might expect on a sophomore effort. Their first album, This Business of Art, garnered them some high-profile touring gigs with the likes of Neil Young and the Pretenders, which should be an indication of their pedigree and potential.
"Time Running" sets a high mark, owing much to Cowboy Mouth's "Jenny Says" in the drums-and-bass intro department, but the sisters follow through without losing a step. "You Went Away" is the kind of thing Magnapop would have gotten to eventually, complete with an XTC-style breakdown in the middle. "Monday Monday Monday" and the ska-tinged "City Girl" are penultimate sing-along champs, deserving of loud play in dorms across the country. "Living Room" boasts the most creative and effective use of an ominous banjo in a pop song since the Grid did "Swamp Thing" a decade ago; "I would go to jail with only boys / Just to prove I was as tough as you," they sing on "Underwater", and we believe them.
Before I use up all my superlative phrases, let me take a break and point out a few flaws. The album peters out late in the game, although even the lesser songs (like "I Hear Noises") aren't so much bad as derivative -- but even this can be viewed as a plus, as Tegan and Sara do the pat Veruca Salt chick-rock shitck as well as or better than anyone else out there. Also, strangely, for songs that rarely cross the three-minute mark, some of them seem oddly overlong. If it's possible to make one's point in a pop song too quickly, the girls have found that grey line and flirted with it relentlessly. But when the pop sounds this damn good, who can complain about an extra bar here and there? At scarcely over half an hour, If It Was You is as pure and exalted a pop gem as I've come across in a long, long time.