Date: October 20, 2009
Author: Emily and Crystal
Headline: Reviewing Tegan & Sara: Sainthood Track-by-Track

Tegan & Sara's new album Sainthoodis now streaming live from their myspace. In part two of our Sainthood review, we review Sainthood album track-by-track in obsessive detail so we can all talk about it constantly forever!

Hello Autostraddle, this is Intern Emily! If you're among those eagerly anticipating October 27th's arrival (or Oct 23 if you live in Australia), the good news is that Tegan & Sara recognize our impatience and have decided to stream the entire Sainthood album on the internet RIGHT NOW! Coincidentally, I've prepared a track-by-track breakdown so that as you listen to the album, we can obsess together in the comments section. Crystal will be joining me for parts of this conversation because she has some residual feelings from writing the album review, but also because I have an epic Sara bias and someone around here has to be the voice of reason. Crystal has clearly edited this part in.

Isn't this great!? If you're not already jumping at the thought of hearing new Tegan & Sara songs then I'm not sure what else I can do for you. Seriously though, this is a very exciting time in our lives. Not only am I about to analyse each track in great detail, but you also have an opportunity to win a copy of Sainthood and have your name drawn out of Laneia's fedora. And there's still something that's going to be better than all of these things combined showing up here really soon. I know, right? What could it be!

But for now, turn the volume up and GET READY.

1. Arrow [Sara]
Tegan & Sara begin Sainthood with a risky track. To be honest, the first 30 seconds of Arrow scared me - "what the hell is this? Is the whole album like this?". Comfort came when the chorus went back to the usual Tegan & Sara style.

Sara displays her strong vocals a lot on this album and especially on this track. Arrow may be overlooked 'cause of the stronger tracks which follow it. But the more I listen to it the further up the favourite list it climbs.

Crystal: I was a little nervous when I heard the beginning of this track, but I was also excited. It was different, and not having a super strong attachment to The Con, I was ready for it to take me somewhere new. It did, too. There's beauty in this track's simplicity and the switchup to the upbeat chorus keeps things interesting. But I don't understand the lyrics, I mean sugar spell it out.

Emily: I don't know what this song is about, but I'd never claim to know what any Tegan & Sara song is about unless they explain it, especially Sara's. She often rocks strange & cryptic lyrics. I can't tell if she's the arrow or the target, can you?

Sometimes I feel like all of Sara's lyrics are about sex, but very cleverly disguised.

I feel the breeze, your feathers of an arrow
Out in my yard, feathers of an arrow
I take my aim, you feel me coming close

2. Don't Rush [Tegan]
Don't Rush is unmistakably Tegan & Sara, yet it wouldn't have fit any prior albums because it's definitely a point they've grown to. With heavy, metronomic synths pulsating under a hooky verse and even hookier chorus, Don't Rush makes me want to dance like a crazy person. This is definitely as a pump up song. You know who's pumped? Crystal. Srsly, she has not shut up about this song.

Crystal: This song has been stuck on high rotation in my head for WEEKS. I've been singing it out loud, non-stop, and this has attracted a lot of curious and also frustrated stares because it's not released and so no-one knows it's an actual song yet. And to be fair my rendition is also a little pitchy. I think the bass line on this track makes the strongest first impression on this album, it's killer.

Emily: Though the tune is "less emotional" than others, Tegan still successfully breaks my heart: I'd love to find my other, love to find you… Or maybe I'm just single? Sigh.

Although Tegan hates Superstar, this track says still continues to enjoy spoken word. I don't really like Superstar either and I'm not that huge a fan of the spoken word they used in Are You Ten Years Ago?, but I love the way she uses it here, especially in the bridge.

One way to erase bad ideas
I won't see you when you arrive
One way to escape bad ideas well
I won't cry to you
Not that you will mind

Sidenote: Riese and Alex love Are You Ten Years Ago?

3. Hell [Tegan]
Sainthood's first single, Hell, is a catchy, crowd-pleasing pop-rock song about an article Tegan read about her neighbourhood that described the four blocks as "hell". Even though I have a hard time discerning what Tegan is singing in the verses, I can't stop singing along with the chorus.

As stated in the press release, "Inspired by emotional longing and the quiet actions we hope may be noticed by the objects of our affection, Sainthood is about obsession with romantic ideals." Tegan & Sara can try as they might to write about other things, but they always seem to come back to love and relationships - not just the sexual, but all of it. That's how I relate to Tegan & Sara the most - no matter how hard I try, everything seems to be about love even when it's not about relationships.

This track is probably about Tegan's relationship with herself, living in a place that someone else has described as hell. Described by Tegan here, "I wrote these songs [Hell and The Cure] about the neighborhood, but they're really just metaphors for love."

I know you feel it too, these words get overused
When we get up and over it and over them, up and over it and over them

4. On Directing [Sara]
I love Sara Quin. Let that be known. Why do I love Sara Quin? Because she wrote Back in Your Head and THIS. This is perfect, this is Sara, this is the kind of amazingness I expect and she's delivered, she always does. She sings "Go steady with me. I know it turns you off when I get talking like a teen," and I think everyone, everywhere - except maybe Crystal - knows what she's talking about. How many times have you tried to talk to someone and ended up sounding like an idiot? Like a high school kid? All you want to say is "go steady with me".

Crystal: I guess I am the exception because while I like this song fine, I don't really relate to it. The only response it evoked from me was: 'Yeah, you're right - sometimes it is a turn off when people talk like a teen.' But to be fair, I didn't really relate to Back In Your Head either and so these tracks are probably not written for me, only for people with hearts.

Emily: While I appreciate our differences, I just need to say OH MY GOD I CAN'T BELIEVE YOU DON'T RELATE TO BACK IN YOUR HEAD. Moving on.

There are topics that are cliched, y'know. Like love, for example. But I think what distinguishes a good writer from a great writer is their ability to write about common topics but make them sound new, different, exciting, profound - those who make you think, 'wow I never thought of it like that before'. Tegan & Sara do it time and time again, see: Dark Come Soon, Back In Your Head, etc. Now I'm adding On Directing to the list.

This song makes me think of a high school science class, when you're supposed to be looking through a microscope but you keep glancing sideways at the cute girl over there. Unrequited love hurts. Also, the drums on this song are amazing.

You directing me, you dressed up I lose my grip, I lose my focus
Make those eyes at me, I lose my grip, I lose my focus

5. Red Belt [Sara]
What is this song about? I have no idea, Sara won't tell us.

Red Belt is a real gem that could easily be overlooked because it's right after On Directing and is a little slower and could get lost in the mid-tracklist vortex. Like I said in our Sainthood album review, if you listen to Tegan & Sara as background music then you'll probably never fully appreciate them. I urge everyone to listen to Red Belt carefully, because it has become better every time I've heard it. Sara's voice is so soothing. Also, I love the weird keyboard thing in the background. Crystal says that's not a technical term but whatevs.

If you didn't believe me when I said Sara is a lyrical genius/weirdo, maybe you'll catch on when she sings "I've got a red belt around my mind. Hands tied, around these words. I wish you'd call but I know that you're out tonight." Do you hear that? That's the sound of my heart breaking.

Crystal: I still don't get it, lyrically. However this is one of my preferred 'Sara songs' on the album, it's very well written and I particularly love the electro in it. I continue to have no idea what she's singing about, however I am starting to form the opinion that maybe Sara's songs are impervious to interpretation, that she is far more clever than I and that I should just accept this.

Slow down, you have a tendency to rush back into your past
Slow down, you transfer all your weight and disappear
You kneel, to condition all the feelings that you feel

6. The Cure [Tegan]
Like Hell, The Cure is also written about Tegan's neighborhood in Vancouver. I'm guessing instead of "making the changes" she wanted to, she wrote this song, which is fine, 'cause, like, obvs, Sainthood.

The Cure isn't risky or "out there". It's fairly predictable for most of the song, except for the bridge which builds up into awesomeness. Tegan always has a sort of pleading desperation in her voice which I love and can really be evidenced in her demo of Hop a Plane.

Oh, I must keep going so you must too.

Personally, I like Hell better.

Crystal: Personally I like The Cure better. I like the clipped words in the verses, the immediacy and the way she sounds like she's rushing the lyrics to fit them all in. And I'm glad Emily mentioned the bridge because it is hands-down my favourite moment of this entire album. I don't know how it's possible for a few bars to make me feel this good.

I know the world's been mean to you, I've got a cure, hold tight
I know the world's been cruel to you, I've got a cure for its crimes

7. Northshore [Tegan]
We know Tegan is more likely to write a grungy rock song than Sara. We've seen it before, as early as when she wrote Time Running for If It Was You, and Hop a Plane for The Con.

On Sainthood we had the dreamy Red Belt, followed by the more relaxed The Cure, which has now lead us to.. whoa. Northshore is a two-minute explosion of awesome in-your-face punk rock. It took a while for me to get used to this song but the more I listen, the more it grows on me. True to the Sara fan club, I LOVE her background vocals: "sick abooout this, soooo addictive". Kind of like this song.

You know when you're mad and you just yell/rant at someone without stopping to get everything off your chest? I feel that's happening in Northshore, that Tegan's like "BACK OFF YOU CAN'T DO ANYTHING TILL I'M DONE RANTING". Once I got over the initial surprise, I was like "Yeah! Go Tegan!". Also, I just want you to know that I often rock out to this song at 6:30am.

Crystal: I can't help but to love this song, it leans closer the style of music that I enjoy listening to when I don't have to write about it, the 2-minute short fast bursts of energy that have cultivated many questionable love affairs with bands like Green Day and Jebediah. I'm attracted to the way Tegan throws down in this track, she does it so well. I equally love that the lyrics are a little dark and angsty, even verging on masochistic, it's a nice addition to this record.

Something's so sick about this, my misery's so addictive
I'm halfway there watching northshore from the floor
Singing to you over my shoulder

8. Night Watch [Sara]
I think I rarely like a Tegan & Sara song upon first listen. Night Watch has a seriously catchy melody and makes me think of an old mansion where a woman was murdered. I don't think that's what Night Watch is about. This is a weird one. Also, I think it's the first time they're writing about their parents divorce, something they've talked about in interviews fairly openly. Some fans might not catch on to this song at first because it's almost frustrating in its slow, aggressive beat. Or maybe that's just me.

Crystal said she read somewhere that this track is written from their parents' perspective, but she can't remember where she read it or if it was even a reliable source and so that's helpful. This track makes me imagine a little Sara sitting on the stairs at night listening to her parents fighting [this is just my imagination, clearly I know nothing about their childhood]. When Sara sings "I deserve this anguish on my house" it makes me think of a younger version of herself believing that everything is her fault, 'cause kids always think tragedy is their fault. Despite the short, repetitive lyrics, there's something intensely personal about them that makes it harder to criticize than a song about love. Whether or not it's written from their parents' perspective or if it was indeed Sara's, it offers insight into their childhood and I find that fascinating.

I've got grounds for divorce, it's in my blood this divorce
I've separated everybody, I need distance from your body
I've deserve this anguish on my house.

9. Alligator [Sara]
I only just said that it's unusual for me to like a song on first listen - and Alligator is a definite exception. I was instantly attracted to this song for reasons I can't explain, probably the same intuition that makes me clearly biased toward Sara. Let's be honest; Alligator has some of the weirdest lyrics on the album, even in comparison to Paperback Head which I'm going to talk you through next. But it's almost as if the more abstract lyrics Sara writes, the more I like her songs. Because I've almost given up on trying to figure out what Alligator means, I've allowed myself to just listen without analyzing it. That being said, if anyone has any theories about what this track is about then I would love to hear them.

The first time Tegan & Sara played Alligator live, at Rifflianda, Sara said "I'm pretty much terrified, for this one. I don't think it's gonna be bad, I just think it's gonna be .. interesting," and then described it as "a dancey one". Well, it is "dancey". It's also stands out as one of the more polished tracks on the album. Someone pointed out to me that this is one of the first times where both Tegan & Sara play keyboards live, which is an interesting factoid. I've also heard people claim that the reason they can't get into Tegan & Sara is because of their voices. Sara doesn't necessarily show off her vocal skills in Alligator, but they definitely have a presence here you can't ignore - powerful, forceful and spot on.

Crystal: Unlike Emily, this track did take a long time to grow on me. But when it did, it did so in a serious way. I like that it's a bit of a departure from other songs they've done, it's one of my favourite songs of Sara's. Once again I'm not super keen on the lyrics but I think we've established now that we're just not riding the same lyrical wavelength.

Sensitive, it's true
Alligator tears cried over you
Run around on me, sooner die without
Run around on me, die without

10. Paperback Head [Tegan & Sara zomg]
Oh my God you guys! This is the first we're ever hearing of Tegan & Sara writing together! Let's take a minute to think about this. After about 11 years of making music, we have never heard a true Tegan & Sara collaboration - well not unless you count This is Everything, which Sara allegedly wrote the first few lines of and then Tegan finished it. So my expectations were high.

This is a strange song, but it's grown on me, they always do. It's dry and reminds me of something foreign and exotic, which is why I orginally thought this was a Sara song, because she sings it and the lyrics are very Sara-esque, meaning I have no idea what they are about. Being familiar with the works of Tegan & Sara, I'm going to go out on a limb and say it's probably about love or something, or maybe Madonna.

I would describe Paperback Head as dreamy and smokey, which is probably not helpful in any way, I can't accurately describe instrument sounds like real music reviewers can. But I can tell you this: Paperback Head opens up perfectly for THE FINAL THREE/the big bangs/the most amazing songs on the whole album.

Crystal: I didn't have any expectations for this track and I'm glad, because Tegan totally sold out. JK, I love you Tegan. But I do agree with Emily's observation that this song sounds more like something Sara would create, mainly based on lyrics, which are a little strange. How strange? When providing me with lyrics for inclusion into this review, Emily was only able to decipher one line out of the entire song. That line was:

A material girl.

Crystal: I couldn't help but to laugh and think, really? This is the best you've got? I'm kidding though, lyrics are such a personal thing and these are better than anything I've written ever including this paragraph. I think this is a decent track and it really does holds its own on this record album. If this is their first shot at co-writing songs together then I think the future sounds bright.

11. The Ocean [Tegan]
If there's one thing that Tegan & Sara are good at, it's writing lyrics that everyone can relate to. Tegan displays that ability brilliantly in The Ocean, a song that's full of frustration, sadness, longing, and desperation.

"Well, I know what I want, and what I want is right here with you".

The Ocean makes me sad. It makes me think of driving down the California coastline with the top pulled down and the sun setting on the water. I don't know if that has anything to do with the meaning but it makes me think of Tegan maybe leaving something behind or remembering what she used to have. Crystal says that it reminds her of someone sitting in a lifeguard's post on the shoreline of a California beach, staring out into the ocean in deep thought, like they did on Baywatch. What does it make you think of?

The feelings behind this song changed with every listen, but I think I've landed on nostalgia and maybe a touch of jealously and bitterness. I imagine that Tegan is wrestling with her feelings for a former lover who she wishes she didn't care about but somehow can't let go of. She keeps repeating the line "If I imagine you, body next to another", which emphasizes the idea that everytime she thinks about/sees the other person she's imagining them with someone else. It hurts/sucks and she wishes the other person would "stop crying over me" because it's over and the damage is done. This is truly, truly a beautiful song. The lyrics are candid and heartbreaking. I feel like I'm going to come back to this song over the years and cry a lot.

Crystal: I probably will too. I'd like to note that Emily and I totally geeked out over this song, exchanging multiple essays about what Tegan could have possibly meant when she sung this or said or wrote that, I didn't recognise myself. I don't really have anything else to add except this is an easy contender for the top 3 songs on this record.

On the drive back here I was worried over nothing
On the drive back there tears spilling over something
When I imagine you, body next to another.

12. Sentimental Tune [Sara]
Sentimental Tune is a continuation of The Ocean's beautiful, heartbreaking sound. This track starts off simple, gradually builds, then explodes. Sara's gone and done all of my favorite things here, with her weird lyrics and her ability to make a song really powerful and to make me feel. Though this is not dissimilar from previous stuff Tegan & Sara have done, it's still a noticable departure and I like that. It fits very really well at the end of this album.

In my mind, this is one of the most full and complete tracks of the record. Even though this is a Sara song, I feel like they really came together on this one. It sounds natural from beginning to end, like we should just sit back and let things unfolds.

Sara writes some of the most beautiful, yet simple, words on the album here:

Watch, with a bit of friction,
I'll be under your clothes with a bit of focus
I'll be under your skin
Now you know, you know it now, and so.

Does Sentimental Tune remind anyone else of On Directing? Not in terms of sound, but more of lyrics … I almost feel like it's a continuation, like On Directing is the beginning, the courtship, and then Sentimental Tune is when they've 'settled down' and Sara's like, "now you know I'm [insert blank of whatever Sara is - weird/crazy]". She could be talking about the con, how we present this perfect side of ourselves to people we first meet, but then that guard eventually comes down and they see right through us.

Sara is soft but calculating, warm and learning. I always find myself repeating the lines "Hard-hearted don't worry I'm ready for a fight. Unnerved, the nerve, you're nervous… nervous that I'm right".

Crystal: I find myself repeating those lines too, this entire song is ridiculously hooky and memorable, she's done an incredible job. I appreciate the lyrics specifically, I think somewhere deep down I wish I wrote the phrase "with your cause and affection".

Overall this is just very clever and tight and cool track, so much so that it really does make me wonder if all of Sara's other songs are equally brilliant and I'm just missing something. [Emily: yes and yes.] I have no idea what this song is about, but I feel like she's singing about me. That's all I can really say about that.

13. Someday [Tegan]
When listening to Sainthood for the first time, Someday evoked the biggest reaction from me. I emailed Crystal immediately with: "Someday: cheesy or brilliant? When I first heard the lyrics my first response was "Really, Tegan? Really?", but it's since become the track I've listened to the most."

With this last track, Crystal and I have finally agreed on something: Someday is our favourite track on Sainthood. At first listen, this track may sound like an anthem a garage band might be inclined to write, one of those "fuck you, world! we're gonna be famous one day!" tracks - but IT'S NOT, and that's partly why it's so great. This isn't about how the world has wronged Tegan. It makes me think of a 17-year old Tegan getting over a first relationship and putting on a false bravado to prove she's going to become something, like she's trying to convince herself rather than anyone else.

Someday it evokes a real emotion, it hits close to home. Instead of trying to be perfect and shove it in everyone else's face, it's saying "I might become a decent human being one day, I might make my parents/family/friends proud and that's all that matters". It's not about changing the world, it's about changing yourself for the better.

This track is a really nice way to finish off the album. It's emotional without being depressing, hopeful without being cocky. 'Cause, really, we all want to believe that we might do something worthwhile someday.

Crystal: I cannot really add too much more to what Emily has said, it's perfect. This track isn't only my favourite on the album, but it's very close to becoming my favourite song in Tegan & Sara's entire catalogue, only marginally surpassed by Dark Come Soon and maybe also that song about the wherever all the trees went. Someday affects me in the same way that Dark Come Soon does, I relate and I feel and I empathise to the extent that my gut hurts each and every time. That reaction is hard to come by, not even (most of) my all-time favourite artists have made me feel like Tegan makes me feel right here.

Might paint something I might want to hang here someday.
Might write something I might want to say to you someday.
Might do something I'll be proud of someday.
Mark my words I might be something someday.


Emily's final thoughts:

'Tegan & Sara keep getting better. Everything we love about them came through on Sainthood — and then some. The last three songs on the album are so good, I would be happy if all they had released was a 3 track EP. Instead, they released a whole album full of win and my heart is bursting. Allow me to fangirl for a moment: there is no other artist/group that I care about more than Tegan & Sara. Except maybe Autowin. But she doesn't make music.

I don't think there was ever a question of whether Sainthood would measure up to The Con. Everyone expected whatever came out of the studio to be good, we just didn't know how good. Well, I say, Tegan & Sara have delivered. Now brb I have to go listen to Sainthood and pretend that Tegan & Sara are my friends.