Canadian twin sister duo Tegan & Sara release their first album after breaking out into a wider, more mainstream audience with their previous release Heartthrob, which shifted their indie-folk sound to more commercially accessible 80s-style synthpop. The stylistic avenue opened up by this previous release is continued and expanded upon on Love You to Death, as we are once again provided with a short but sweet album of amazing pop hooks set to an upbeat, sugary and joyful backdrop of sound. This joyful sound, as it has in the past, often masks more sombre lyrics about failed experiences in relationships. The topic of relationships is especially significant for this act, as they display openness about their sexuality which is scarcely found on a release expected to perform well commercially and send songs to radio. This is even perhaps the most evident on the lead single “Boyfriend”, a song which utilizes ambiguous gender terms to bring to light a real story of one of the Quin sisters’ relationship with a bisexual woman, competing with a man for her affections. The slight air of ambiguity is taken away later on, and throwing a line as simple as “All the girls I loved before/Told me they signed up for more” into the chorus on “BWU” is refreshing in today’s world of pop music.
As for the musical aspects, Love You to Death is almost entirely comprised of catchy, 80s-inspired synth melodies and basslines, layered with the sharp and fast-paced lyrics we have come to know from the band recently. As with most singing duos connected by blood, a kind of magical connection exists which is used to create perfectly executed harmonies. These harmonies are on display perhaps more than in any other project so far, and are often quite complex and impressive, adding another interesting dimension to what is essentially designed to be a massive earworm of an album. As with Heartthrob, the entire album is produced by Greg Kurstin, also known for his extensive work with artists such as Sia and Kelly Clarkson, and constantly nominated for the Grammys’ producer of the year award. His work on Adele’s 25 (Including “Hello”) is sure to land him there again. The aforementioned “Boyfriend” might be one of the best lead singles of the year, a perfect introduction to the album. The frenetic synthpop instrumental infuses a spark of energy into the track. The best aspect of this album is the anthemic quality possessed by many of the choruses similar to Carly Rae Jepsen’s recent E-MO-TION, causing me to imagine how fantastic of an experience screaming them at the top of my lungs in a crowd would be. The hook on “Stop Desire” specifically prompted this thought – and since most of it is “oh-oh-oh”s, this speaks for the quality of the music itself.
The main criticism with this album is that there is nothing with a huge amount of artistry or innovation here, whether regaining their older sound before their rise to popularity or extracting everything they can out of the current style like on Heartthrob’s brilliant “Now I’m All Messed Up”. At 10 tracks, the album is too short to contain a lazy variant of this tried-and-true format in opener “That Girl”. In addition, I was less of a fan of the slower songs closer to the end of the project. “100x” in particular sounds like the faster-paced vocal line belongs on one of the bigger beats presented, but instead has a slow piano line behind it. “Hold On To the Night” is an effective enough calm-down outro, but doesn’t pack as much of a memorable punch contributing to replay value. They’ve proven that they can make songs of this nature efficiently in the past, such as on piano ballad hit “I Was A Fool” – though perhaps the only reason I feel this way is because track after track of the in-your-face pop hooks and instrumentation is done so well on this project that it leaves me wanting more.
Favorite Tracks: Boyfriend, Faint Of Heart, Stop Desire, White Knuckles, Dying To Know
Least Favorite Track: That Girl