Tegan and Sara – Love You To Death

Tegan and Sara take on themselves in new album Love You To Death.

Artist: Tegan and Sara
Album: Love You To Death
For Fans of: St. Lucia, Metric, Chvrches
Reviewer: Megan Mead

In a surprising turn of events, Tegan and Sara, with their most recent pop album Love You To Death (LY2D), have created their most cohesive and introspective record since their landmark album The Con.

I know that’s a bold statement, one that is likely to send a shiver of anger or frustration up the backs of die-hard fans who have disliked the band’s recent departure from their older indie rock sound. Trust me when I say that this departure does not spell the end of Tegan and Sara as we’ve come to know and love them, in fact, this album marks in the band’s history the time they finally came to know themselves.

I repeat. This is not a departure from their identity as authentic artists, this is an arrival into it.

In Love You To Death, we see Tegan and Sara tackling issues they never had the space or the emotional security to tackle before: their relationship to one another as sisters, and their journey into taking ownership of themselves and their mistakes. It’s fascinating how well those two themes weave themselves together in this album, which points to the other striking feature of this record: Tegan and Sara as sisters and artists have finally learned how to capitalize on each others strengths and work together as a unit. As twin sisters, Tegan and Sara spent their lives trying to distinguish themselves from one another, and as artists, it had always been very clear which song was Tegan’s and which one was Sara’s. This difference gave their past albums great variety in style, but also caused a sort of disjointedness in their overall sound (which became an endearing trademark to them). In an older review of The Con done by The A.V. Club, the reviewer described them in their strongest moments as “stumbling along recklessly, then falling together.”  In a sweet reversal, Tegan and Sara don’t fall together in Love You to Death, they walk hand in hand. In their interview with Buzzfeed, Sara postulates “What if I just let go, and let Tegan have influence on what I do, and she lets me have influence on what she does?” Tegan remarks in return, “We finally get to become the superhuman.”

Even for a long time fan like myself, it was difficult to pick out who wrote which song in the album. The entire record is laden with 80’s synth and unmistakably pop vibes, following the overall style of Heartthrob, but the resemblance ends there. LY2D succeeds everywhere Heartthrob stumbled, Tegan and Sara have successfully married their new sound with their confessional, intimate lyrics.

Probably the most raw track on the record, White Knuckles, is an exploration into the thing that both binds them together and tears them apart: their sisterhood. They both “clutch each other, like knuckles turned white”, and they “break each other, like knuckles in a fight”, using the same connection to both hold each other up and tear each other down, “breaking the mirror in two”. Sara writes in the chorus, “I cry wolf” and “I made us feel unlucky too,” alluding to the fact that she recognizes that Tegan is not the sole abuser in their relationship, that she is just as responsible. This theme of ownership for each other’s pain continues in the ballad 100x, where Sara sings “It was cruel of me to do what I did to you/It was wrong of me to hurt such a big part of you.” Tegan also alludes to this need for leaning on each other in Hang On to The Night, singing in the bridge, “Every time/you pick me up/you say this is what love/what our love is for.” The important part is the repetition of the line “this is what love is for”, because the second time almost feels like a correction, an emphasis on “our love” as opposed to just any other love. “Our love” is for one another, to hold each other up, to strengthen each other when we fall.

Tegan and Sara also explore their responsibility for pain in their past relationships. Tegan writes in That Girl, the first track in the album “No one hurts you like me/when did I become that girl/that girl I see.” Tegan has commented in previous interviews for this record that she often times painted herself as the victim in other albums, and that in this album, she wanted to be more honest with herself, and to explore her own mistakes. This theme plays out in the single U-Turn, where she sings apologetically “Give me a second/let me U-Turn/write you the love song you’ve earned.”

At the same time, Tegan and Sara don’t just dwell on their mistakes. In these tracks, they also stand up for themselves, owning their desires and who they are in a way they’ve never done before. At their heart, the tracks Boyfriend, Dying to Know, Stop Desire, and B/W/U all function under this revelation: “I deserve to be loved, and I’m not afraid to ask for it.” Boyfriend is the quin-tessential (pun intended) anthem for the guy or gal stuck in a love triangle, and its obvious LGBT themes make it even more striking. Stop Desire, in the same vein, feels like the Quin sisters’ take on Springsteen’s Dancing in the Dark. The track oozes with a confident sensuality that just hasn’t been present in their music since their earlier albums, and it is so refreshing.

Hang Onto the Night really ties the album together thematically, declaring “Hang onto yourself/no good will come from being untrue/hang onto your heart/it can save you”. The song chronicles the struggle to push forward in hope, even when feeling helpless, and in live shows, will no doubt be the song where fans will break out the lighters and maybe tissues.

Looking back at The Con, an era that is both one of their darkest, most divisive, yet most creatively rich, it is so fitting to see such a fantastic album as LY2D come in a time when Tegan and Sara are most united.  I believe it’s incredibly important to the narrative the band creates through the course of their career. Tragedy speaks in a different tone than peace, and artists write from different perspectives when they are in the midst of despair versus when they are in a good place reflecting backwards. Both perspectives have important things to offer to their listeners, and are beneficial for the fans who have come to love Tegan and Sara over the years. As one of those long time fans, I’m awed, and I’m thankful for their commitment to artistic honesty, and the honesty that they have with themselves. To say it’s inspiring is an understatement.