Let it not be said that we, as big, bad, nasty punk rockers, don't have a soft spot for sweet melody and playful harmony. While other pop acts get trampled by our Doc Martens and Chuck Taylors, we embrace Tegan and Sara wholeheartedly. But, the acceptance is with good reason. While some other pop groups get suffocated with plastic production and studio tricks, Tegan and Sara are deftly able to create honest, bare songs which are enhanced by the nice equipment available to major labels.
But, while the group has always seemed to be honest with their words, it's particularly interesting to hear them settle into their own sound while spinning through their 'Official Vinyl Collection,' a box set that includes their LPs from 2000 through 2009 and a bonus demos LP.
Beginning with their second album, This Business of Art, the box shows that while Tegan and Sara's unique sound was always with them, it was less prominent in their early days when they seemed to still be heavily influenced by mid-'90s alt-rock. This sound continues through If It Was You, but suddenly, on their breakthrough album So Jealous, the ladies make a quantum leap. Blending a more rock-oriented guitar sound than previously heard--with some strategically used synthesizes--Tegan and Sara suddenly became a unified, identifiable sound. While it might have been Jack White's cover of "Walking with a Ghost" that first got them noticed, it was the multi-faceted songs and simply beautiful harmonies which really broke them through the mass of other artists. Plus, in my opinion, they seem to pull the "David Bowie" where really weird songs seem like completely normal, hummable tunes until you go back and inspect them, only to discover how clever the lyrics are and how unusual the structure is.
With The Con, they seemed to simplify their approach, pulling back all their songs to their bare necessities and creating 14 short, simple, snappy tunes that were appealing in their accessibility. Interestingly, while The Con was their most upbeat album to date sound-wise, it had an incredible darkness to the lyrics, sometimes echoing early Cure records in the contrast between sound and message.
On their latest LP, Sainthood, they seemed to increase their use of synthetic sounds, perhaps as influenced by their association with Tiesto, and became even more of a pop group, sometimes abandoning rock all together. But, while some might scoff at a purely pop record, Tegan and Sara were able to show what was great about songs that had meaning and simply sounded good, showing that not everything has to be difficult to listen to for it to be good music. In fact, throughout the record, they make sly references to Madonna (I think) and their own career, seemingly pointing out that they are women on a mission.
But, people buying this set likely already have those jams. The real gem of the wax is the demos LP, which contains nine tunes recorded by Tegan and Sara themselves, between So Jealous and now. While none of the songs are that radically different, the set highlights just how talented the twins really are, as their voices are as soulful and honest as they are on the finished product. Plus, on the demo of "Dark Come Soon," Tegan Quin (I think) sings in a tender style not heard on their studio LPs. I don't know if her tone was the result of experimentation, a strange mic setup, or a sore throat, but on that song her sweet voice just sends shivers up the spine. Whew!!!
Interestingly, they didn't include their very first album in the set. Maybe this is because it was never released as a vinyl LP, but a truly complete vinyl discography would have been a pretty cool item. Also, Tegan and Sara have slowly built up a substantial number of B-sides and rarities, so a collection of those tunes would have been much appreciated.
While non-collectors would probably be better just buying these albums individually, and collectors probably already have these albums on vinyl, the demos LP makes the entire set worthwhile, and just goes to show that Tegan and Sara really are what they seem to be. Highly recommended for fans.