Last time I heard Tegan and Sara, they were walking with the ghost. I knew a lot of people who loved that song and whatever album it was on (the internet says it was on an album called So Jealous), but I was not one of them. I found the song pretty repetitive and I didn’t like the singer’s voice. Turns out that singer was Sara Quin and it turns out that, as of last year’s Sainthood, I still don’t care much for her voice. Sainthood is not the worst thing I’ve ever heard, mind you, but at best, it makes me want to listen to Mates of State. Or the New Pornographers. Or Santogold. Or Metric. Or the last Yeah Yeah Yeahs record. I could do this all day, and that’s a problem for Sainthood.
Tegan and Sara Quin, the titular sisters in this mad pop duo, seem to have gone to a subpar school of How to Make Pop Music – one that taught them that “pop song” = “repetition of the same few phrases over and over again.” I know that, to some extent, this is the case – that’s why a refrain is a refrain. But Tegan and Sara have too much repetition and not enough pop song to go ’round, which is especially irritating when you realize they are attempting to practice the chorus/chorus/chorus song structure that the aforementioned New Pornographers have mastered (FYI, there’s a new New Pornos record coming out in May. I am very excited about this). Maybe if I thought about music differently, I could focus on the cutesy vocals and admittedly catchy melodies and come away enjoying Sainthood. But I don’t and I can’t.
What I can think about is how, in “On Directing,” Sara Quin sings, “I know it turns you off/ when I get talking like a teen” and how that strikes me as the truest line on the album. In my estimation, all of Sainthood is talking like a teen. I feel like, if there was a store for teen-pop kids (like a less deliberately gloomy Hot Topic), you’d walk in and hear Tegan and Sara music at top volume. Wait a second, there is a store like that. It’s called American Apparel. Someone walk in there and tell me what you hear, because I’m not fucking going.
I have hit on exactly one context in which I could really like Sainthood: if Tegan and Sara were sixth-graders, I would be pretty impressed with their music. It’s melodic enough, but lacking in complexity, the way a lot us are in our preadolescence. The repetition could be forgiven in youngsters who are making their first foray into pop music; in grown-ups, it comes off as supremely lazy. Though none of the songs on Sainthood make it past the four minute mark, all of them feel like they could be about half as long. And album closer “Someday” is a blatant ripoff of probably every song on the best Mates of State album, Bring It Back – especially “Punchlines.” And it’s telling to me that “Someday” is my favorite song on the album – and for every decent song on Sainthood, I can think of a better song by a better artist that I’d rather be listening to. In fact, I can do that for every song on Sainthood. I was going to list them in order below, but gave up on the exercise when I realized that I would just be suggesting you listen to Metric, Mates of State, and the Yeah Yeah Yeahs instead of Tegan and Sara.
So there are two things that occur to me upon repeated listens to Sainthood. First off, Tegan and Sara are a poor man’s (or woman’s) version of Metric, a band that brings consistently better melodic hooks, constantly better singing, and less repetition. A friend of mine came to stay this weekend and in exchange for a few luxurious nights on my futon, he dumped a ton of Metric’s old stuff on my hard drive. I was already in love with Fantasies, but my time with Live It Out and other previous Metric albums has only increased my esteem for that band. “Monster Hospital,” for instance, is vastly superior to every single track on Tegan and Sara’s Sainthood. Second, the songs on Sainthood that don’t make me want to switch over to Metric make me want to switch over to other, better, bands with strong female voices. I’ve already listed a bunch so I won’t repeat ’em, but it tells me that Tegan and Sara are tragically generic and I’m forced to wonder if that’s what they’re trying to be. And if it is, that makes Tegan and Sara music for people who don’t really care about music. I’m not being facetious here, either – there is a demographic out there that consists entirely of people who want to put an album on and forget about it. If you’re in this demographic, you’re going to really pay attention to the album very rarely, so it rarely has to be good – it has to please your ear, say, once every ten minutes or so. I’m adamantly outside of that demographic, and I tend to view those within it as some weird breed of people who will swallow musical poison to avoid silence. When I listen to music, I want to be riveted. I want music that demands my attention, and Tegan and Sara have me skipping to the next track, not because I want to hear it, but because I want to play my little game of “what would I rather listen to?” And that fun lasts for about three minutes before I just listen to something else.
So that’s my not-so-ringing endorsement of Sainthood. I’m not joking when I tell you that, if you don’t give a fuck about music, the album will work just fine for you. But if you don’t give a fuck about music, you probably don’t read Bollocks! (unless you’re here to shit on me for not liking your favorite band. If your favorite band is Tegan and Sara, shit away. Your scorn will only make me stronger). I guess, to sum up, since Sainthood is for people who don’t give a fuck about music and I do give a fuck (a mighty one – feel free to name your band A Mighty Fuck) about music, I can’t honestly give a fuck about Tegan and Sara’s Sainthood.