Tuesday, August 24, 2004
"John and Dave did everything," admits Sara. "That's actually them singing on the album. We sped up their voices to sound more feminine. Tegan and I just did a lot of blow and hung out with hookers in the lounge."
One of the things I miss most about Holy Cow (dearly departed Brooklyn record store) was the unpredictability of the staff's interests. I never really knew what would be playing when I walked in, and at various times I was turned on to The Wombles, The Millennium, John Kongos, The Blood Brothers and Fannypack . One album that I almost certainly wouldn't have heard save for Holy Cow was Tegan & Sara's If It Was You from 2003.
All I really knew about them was this vaguely snarky (though not entirely dismissive) concert review from the NY Press. (Snarky? The NY Press? How could it be!) It didn't get me interested.
But Holy Cow had T&S's 2003 CD If It Was You on all the time, day after day, at one point, and I'm listening to it in the store thinking that their voices remind me of Alanis/Ani (neither of whom I like) but wow, the production is wonderful. Finally I just gave in and bought the CD. [Sticklers will point out that the CD came out in 2002. I'm talking about the expanded 2003 version.]
Don't get me wrong, it's got a lot of mainstream-type aspects. The songs are mostly about relationship issues with "you," the vocals are pretty forward, and there isn't much of the world-weary insouciance that we know and love in our indie rock.
The first thing that you (as a reader of this site) should probably know is that If It Was You and the forthcoming album So Jealous were produced by John Collins and Dave Carswell, both associated with the New Pornographers. The Tegan and Sara albums have the Pornographers' New Wave nouveau all over them, though I'm wondering if the producers had a much bigger budget than their usual or something. To be blunt, If It Was You sounds flat out fantastic on headphones. I don't quite understand why the New Pornographers' own albums don't sound this good. When I wrote about T&S previously, I posted Want To Be Bad, and I'm going to repeat it as there's this amazing Eno (circa Another Green World) inspired thing going on during the instrumental parts.
The first track off of the album is called Time Running, and once it hits the chorus it's got all the oomph of a Neko-sung NP's track. I'm not saying that T&S are clones of the New Pornographers: their voices are different, the songwriting is different, they don't harmonize as much and their lyrics are straightforward. Just sonically, though, the resemblance can be pretty strong at times. A good example of that is I Hear Noises (with special emphasis on the bridge).
In the beginning I looked on If It Was You as a weird curiosity. You know, "Isn't it bizarre that these Ani-wannabies have decided to go in this direction." But I kept playing the CD over and over, and at some point it just became clear that it's a fantastic album. The owner of Holy Cow agreed, and we had a long talk about how it was probably a tough item to market. I say "Tegan and Sara" to people I know and they generally mumble the word "Lilith" and then fall asleep. And, if you look at the comments on the various message boards for the band, you'll see a pretty sharp divide, with a lot of their old fans looking on the New Pornographers association as a misguided deviation from their folkie sound.
I'm happy to say that, based on the soundclips on their website, it's not a deviation. I haven't heard the whole album yet, so I can't say if it lives up to my expectations, but check out the song I Know I Know I Know (you can stream it from their website) for starters. Indie folk sometimes react badly to their voices in my experience. Get over it, I say. Chan Marshall and Steve Malkmus and Kim Gordon and Mark E. Smith sound like talentless boobs to 99% of the world, so let's compromise on this one.
Ultimately the NY Press guy's obsession with their being twin lesbians doesn't seem to have much to do with anything. I've read their press and I've downloaded a bunch of live clips of the two bickering (a major and somewhat entertaining part of their act) and if anything they remind me of a couple of those kids from Degrassi Jr. High, grown up, in a band, and just starting to find their own sound. There's nothing tAtU or Olsen about them (a point rammed home by the fact that their promo videos seem to always revolve around Tegan or Sara getting some unpleasant disease: last time it was diarrhea, this time it's hives). There's a great quote from them in one interview I read, where they talk about asking a particularly pushy photographer if he'd urged Radiohead to snuggle in bed for their promo photos.
I hope T&S do well with the non-folk stuff. Honestly, if the people who were horrified by Liz Phair's recent activities put a fraction of their whining-energy into supporting a band that's crossed over in the opposite direction, the world would probably be a better place. If you think that supporting a mainstream band that takes its cues from indie is a noble goal (and just to emphasize, T&S are playing at Farm Aid with Dave Matthews in September) then here's your chance to give at the office. If you're looking for one more nudge, I'd note that their US promotion is handled by the same people who deal with The Clinic and Ken Stringfellow, leaving little doubt about which side of the line Tegan and Sara want to be on.
They have one of those fanatically loyal fanbases, so off to teganandsara.org and teganandsara.net for more info than I could possibly give you.