In many ways, Canadian sister act Tegan and Sara's body of work can be described as a decade-long rumination on romantic obsession. From their 1999 debut album Under Feet Like Ours to their 2004 breakout record So Jealous to this month's Sainthood, the Quins have spent the past 10 years writing sing-along indie pop hits that tackle the tempestuous constellation of love and love lost.
But unlike other masters of the genre who revel in the pithy details of the heart - like Dolly Parton deploring Jolene's auburn hair or Leonard Cohen describing the tear in the shoulder of Jane's lover's famous blue raincoat - Tegan and Sara are specialists in the generalities of love. The twins rarely write in specifics; almost all of their most memorable songs are addressed to a phantom "you" who is rarely given defining characteristics. Rather, their songs focus on sketching the infinite and varied situations that result from loving - like two lovers who have vastly different feelings for each other on "You Went Away" or knowing your lover hates something about you but desiring them anyway as in Sainthood's "On Directing." ("Go steady with me," opines Sara on the latter song, "I know it turns you off when I / I get talking like a teen.") But contrary to dictums of Creative Writing 101, the pair are at their best when they write about the universal - when they identify the romantic dilemmas we have all tortured ourselves over and fuse them with their brand of guitar-heavy, girl power pop.
Their latest album Sainthood, which brings back former producers Chris Walla of Death Cab for Cutie and Howard Redekopp (one of the men behind the console for So Jealous), continues this conversation about love but with a sound that is thicker and more muscular than their previous efforts. Sainthood is steeped in the legacy of the 80s. The record blends post-punk and post-new wave influences, as well as references to 80s icons like Madonna and The Cure, to produce a catchy - if highly produced - soundscape of heavy synth, electro beats, dirty bass lines and brazen vocals. The effect is welcome; the band's beefed up sound lends their songs more urgency and reflects the maturing ideas expressed in them. Nowhere is this evolving perspective more clear than on "Hell," where heartache can't be felt without a biting awareness that love - everyone's love - is at once banal. "I know you feel it too / These words get overused," the sisters intone in the chorus. Yet despite the fact that it's all been said before, Tegan and Sara make entertaining pop out of saying it again.