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The Con is the fifth album from young Canadian folk-rockers Tegan and Sara. The band is somewhat unusual in that it actually consists of two identical twins; Tegan and Sara Quin. The twins hail from Calgary and have already delivered a surprisingly large amount of material, given that they were only born in 1980. While Tegan and Sara are yet to reach full-blown international success, their blend of quirky pop, indie-folk, and rock has won them a loyal following in many countries. They have also secured support gigs for many big names including Neil Young, Ben Lee, The Killers, and Cake.
The Con is the girls' first release since their most popular offering, 2004's So Jealous. Recorded predominantly in Christopher Walla's living room and with guest appearances from both unknown and recognised musicians (e.g. Jason McGerr from Death Cab for Cutie) the new album takes the band's sound even further into the quirky but infectious rock-pop territory that they do so well. The girls have recorded an album which includes 14 tracks but is still barely over half an hour in length. This allows them to play with a variety of style and the album feels sort of like a smorgasbord of different sounds and styles, tied together by the girls' unique vocals.
The opening track "I Was Married" is a great example, at just on one and a half minutes it is a sweet and upbeat track that sets the mood of the album perfectly. This swiftly segues into "Relief Next To Me" which has a slightly stronger bass line and rockier overtones. One of the things that makes this music so listenable is the simplistic but layered sounds and excellent lyrics that keep you constantly ready for a repeat listen. The two girls sing back-up vocals on each other's songs and their voices harmonise perfectly together.
The title track epitomises what this band does so well - catchy guitar riffs, a killer chorus that, and an irresistable sing-along sound, that still manages to stay well away from cheesy or predictable. "Knife Going In" is another change of pace, with slightly more dominant drums, a slightly slower pace, and darker, more raw vocals. It is incredibly refreshing to hear pop music (or indie-pop) that isn't all candy and rainbows, and Tegan and Sara give us intelligent, emotive, and powerful pop music that is nevertheless very accessible.
The sixth track on the album "Back in Your Head" is the most undeniably pop-influenced song on the album. Seeing the band perfom the song live, the girls themselves described the song as "the type of song you hear once and by the end feel like you've heard it a thousand times". The catchiness though is not the tired mass-produced pop of the Top 40, the slightly retro feeling keys in the back of the mix give this song a little something that won't grate on any but the most intense pop-haters out there.
The upbeat mood continues with "Hop a Plane", but "Soil, Soil" is another slightly more sombre offering, with acoustic piano and interesting vocal combinations that are instantly engaging. "Burn Your Life Down" is one of my favourite songs on the album with it's strong vocals that I can just never resist singing along with! It's great music whether you want to sing along in the shower, or go tearing down a freeway with the windows down.
"Like O, Like H" and "Dark Come Soon" are both great additions to the album, the first with it's slightly ominous sounding distorted guitar and the vocals that the two twins seem to toss back and forward between each other. The second with an awesome guitar hook and driving bassline, punctuated by simple chorus. However I really couldn't pick and 'weak links' on the album, so it's probably just personal preference as to which songs are highlights. Some albums have clear filler tracks that have evidently been bashed together at the last minute, but there is absolutely no sense of this on The Con. Each song is like a unique but necessary piece of the puzzle.
The last track on the album, "Call It Off" is certainly a highlight. Watching the DVD you can see that the track was recorded almost entirely in one take when Tegan managed to come out with one of those miracle moments singing and playing her guitar. The back-up vocals and other instrumentation are sparse and preserve that amazing sense of a heartfelt song that just somehow perfectly comes together. The lyrics also are amongst the strongest on the album. At just under 2 and a half minutes the song is short, sweet, and keeps you wanting more. Like the album generally.
Quite apart from the music, the album can be recommended by the highly amusing and engaging DVD that the girls made during the recording of the album, and which is included with the CD. The DVD includes footage of the musicians' performances during recording of the album, the girls' interviewing their friends and peers, and them talking with producer Chris Walla about their views of the album. All in all it makes for fun viewing, whether you're interested in the recording process, a fan of the band, or just looking for some easy entertainment and a few laughs. Tegan and Sara come across as very anassuming, down to earth people, who are nevertheless passionate about music and love what they do.
The album artwork is also interesting. The band has opted for the rather unusual card packaging in favour of the standard plastic case, and an album booklet with lyrics to all the songs is included. It's nice to see a band that looks at their album as a whole package and the package that Tegan and Sara have come up with reflects their creativity and individual style.
All in all, if you haven't come across these Canadian lasses yet, go out there and beg borrow or buy yourself a copy of The Con. It won't be long before you're looking for their back catalogue too. For a start, check out their website at www.teganandsara.com and if you get the chance to see them perform live, grab it with both hands - they're definitely worth it.
Disc #1 Tracklisting
1 I Was Married
2 Relief Next To Me
4 Knife Going In
5 Are You Ten Years Ago
6 Back In Your Head
7 Hop A Plane
8 Soil Soil
9 Burn Your Life Down
12 Like O Like H
13 Dark Come Soon
14 Call It Off