That Tegan and Sara have found some major label success is no real surprise. Strong female voices threaded through pop-punk energy has its built-in demographic. What is a little surprising is how well-executed their albums for Sire have been. The girls have ignored easy sounds, and instead have morphed the raw nerve of their early stuff into bracing and subtly varied power-pop. And Sainthood is another fine example of how Tegan and Sara’s popularity has dovetailed with a solid musical maturity.
Part of that maturity here comes in the subtle flourishes they build into these songs, keeping an album that is almost uniformly mid-tempo feeling fresh all the way through. Each song is built on propulsive drums, with the vocals way up in the mix. But in that space in between, there’s some great tinkering to be found. Opener “Arrow” for example is thick with a lush tangle of acoustic guitars. The sweet melody of “Red Belt” is rendered melancholic by cool, electronic blips. “Paperback Head” is all organ atmosphere and awkward chunks of guitar. And “Hell,” the driving lead single, gets most of its energy from the airy treble producer Chris Walla soaks those power chords in.
Over all this music, Tegan and Sara deliver unsurprising force with their vocals. Each can cut a phrase off in anger, or stretch it out in anguish. The once fragile warble in their singing is a thing of the past, and in its place are two confident singers snarling through the heartache.
Lyrically, though, Sainthood might be a mixed bag. Most of the time, the girls deal in broad strokes, and while that lack of detail doesn’t get them into huge trouble on the record, it doesn’t usually do them any favors. That chorus on “Hell,” for example, employs a formless angst on lines like “I know you feel it too, these words get overused,” that would land much flatter if the song wasn’t so damn catchy. But it is those inexact sentiments sometimes keep good songs from being great. Although, there are other spots where their murky lyrics are effective. When Tegan sings “I’ve got the cure for [the world’s] crimes,” she could mean nuclear war or not calling the next morning, and that flawed logic reveals a voice mired in loss.
All the way through, Sainthood hooks you immediately with melody, and then quietly chips away at you with subtle emotion. It might lack the breadth of sound and mood The Con had, but this is still a tuneful collection that stands up well enough on its own, and let’s us know that Tegan and Sara aren’t taking this whole major label turn lightly. Instead, they seem to be thriving on it. How refreshing.