Tegan and Sara‘s musical career is approaching adulthood. Their first albums in 1999 and 2000 were mimicry, an infant repeating sounds. In 2002, the twins started to find their own melodic indie-rock voice with If It Was You. Two years later, they released unbounded playground energy with So Jealous. The Con transcended refrigerator art, and Sainthood has the transitional feel of a child entering middle school. In 2013, Heartthrob represented braving halls of high school with a new look and sound, leaving the relative innocence of raw rock in the schoolyard in favor of hanging with the “cool kids” of pop.
Now they are the cool kids. Now they are upper classmen. Love You to Death is Tegan and Sara’s eighth album in the course of a 17-year span, and in that time they have proven all that they needed to prove. Even as they were evolving, the music they were writing seemed peerless in its honesty and intensity. With Love You to Death, the transformation to pure pop is complete. There doesn’t appear to be a guitar or organic drum on the album, and while that may bother fans of the sisters’ indie-rock roots, the core elements of their songwriting remain.
Love You to Death opens with “That Girl,” starting with lightly flanged synths and tightly compressed vocals. An ersatz kick-drum taps in, and a swell leads the percussion into the chorus, layered with additional sounds and effects, followed by vocal touches that border on cheesy. For fans of a rawer rock sound, it’s likely a turn-off. But listen again and feel the heartbreak: “Say what I want, say what I need / nobody hurts you like me,” they confess. “When did I become ‘that girl’?”
First single, “Boyfriend,” has a melody that’s straight out of 1984 with an arrangement to match, the benefit of which is that it’s catchy as hell, which is also its curse. “Boyfriend” is a tragic portrait of what it’s like to be someone’s same-sex-secret, of unrequited love to the nth degree. The theme of unequal attraction continues with “Stop Desire,” featuring one of T&S’s most infectious hooks yet. “100x” finally gives us a beat-free ballad, but it’s no less lacquered in pop sheen. It packs an emotional punch, though, as the lyrics walk us through the pain of begging for forgiveness.
Album closer “Hang On to the Night” starts with a synth flourish that sounds prepackaged, but was carefully selected to match the optimistic mood of the song. Yes, the last number on Love You to Death is about giving thanks and looking up, and it’s a fine and uplifting way to lead into a commencement ceremony.
There are those of us who hoped that T&S’s Heartthrob sound was a rest stop instead of destination, but with Love You to Death, their intentions are clear. The next step is higher education, where they will continue developing and perfecting the sound they have come to identify with, or they will discover a fresh, new path and surprise us yet again, but as long as they maintain their connection with their hearts, it will be exactly what they mean it to be.