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ATP! Album Review: Tegan and Sara - Heartthrob

As per usual, Tegan and Sara have brought us another album – their seventh full length – with flawless harmony and vocal play-between that only twin sisters could master. But let’s just get this out of the way first: this album isn’t perfect. The duo have always been poetically heartbroken and desperate, but on Heartthrob, a few tracks fall short of irony-pop and find themselves stuck in boy band territory.

"I Was A Fool" is the first instance of this, where they lose a bit of their edge and end up making what could have been a track on Britney’s …Baby One More Time, sickeningly sweet and a bit too naïve. 'How Come You Don’t Want Me' and 'Love They Say' have the same effect later on in the album, the latter a surprisingly endearing but dated wedding ballad, and ode to the power of love.

But for every steadfast fan who’s been waiting for a new album since 2009’s Sainthood, don’t freak out, the new record won’t let you down. With its stance firmly in electronica pop, Heartthrob often regains its balance of heartsickness with an edge. And whether intentional or not, Tegan and Sara use some incredibly clever ‘80s and ‘90s influences.

Album opener and first single "Closer" offers a frisky synth and sexy-but-honest lyrics with “I won’t treat you like you’re typical.” This is the sophisticated pop that has the potential to land on an upcoming episode of Girls and make the same impact that Robyn’s 'Dancing On My Own' had.

"Goodbye, Goodbye" keeps the drum machines rolling as the 2013 edition of Michael Jackson’s 'Beat It' (someone, please, do a mashup of this). By now it’s clear this isn’t the depressed Tegan and Sara we’ve seen in some of their earlier works; instead, they’re energizing their depression and channeling it into danceable sounds a bit princess and a bit tough. And while a few tracks can mimic Britney’s sappy lovesick ballads, others – like “I Couldn’t Be Your Friend” – boldly scream Katy Perry.

Of course, not every track on Heartthrob emulates a pop icon. Certain tracks are so undeniably typical of the duo that they’ll become your favorites even before hearing the album in full. “I’m Not Your Hero” is the first of these, whose misty guitar intro and energizing bass line again nail the mix of love and reality. Its chorus falls a bit flat, but just when you think you’ve heard the best, “Drove Me Wild” comes rushing in as your new favorite, the song everyone will throw on at their next house party when the mood level hits its peak. As a track about losing your sanity as the one you love messes with your head, it’s all about looking at your pain from a distance, throwing it off your shoulders and having a good time.

The album winds down with "Now I’m All Messed Up," a union of classic piano, bubbled beats, heavy bass and static noise, a reminder of the power of twin vocals as they fight between themselves with 'Go', 'Please stay' and 'Go if you want'. Finally, it ends with "Shock To Your System," which you’d expect to be something epic but results in a subtle building and layering of the chorus, amounting to a level-headed look at love, and a level-headed finale to the record despite its passionate name. Tegan and Sara have never tried to hide how they feel about love and heartbreak, and it’s an honesty that’s earned them success. But as artists who don’t hold anything back about how they feel, some tracks can seem a bit like looking at cringe-worthy old diary entries from years past. On Heartthrob, though, we mostly empathize instead of cringe thanks to the album’s backdrop of electronica that adds perspective to love and heartache, with some fearless edge.


Carolyn Vallejo

Heartthrob will be released on January 29th through Warner Bros.

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