Everything about Tegan and Sara seems kind of cute. There’s the twin thing, of course, their singing voices, and all the stories they tell at their concerts. There’s the fact that they didn’t name their band something pretentious; they kept it simple with their first names — although their last name, Quin, is kind of cute, too, especially in the phrase “the Quin twins.” All of this indicates that the Canadian duo would be a saccharine concoction, but this isn’t the case. Tegan and Sara got started in the late ’90s playing mostly folk-punk, and even if their first release via Neil Young’s Vapor imprint is decidedly poppier than the band’s previous work, the Canadian duo still puts some teeth into the indie-girl-singer stereotype. The Con builds on 2004’s critically acclaimed So Jealous and fulfills much of the twins’ potential as songsmiths and the standard bearers for grrrl rock.
The Con, co-produced by Death Cab for Cutie’s Chris Walla, is carefully constructed as a full-length listening experience rather than a collection of singles. Its greatest strength is that the songs are arranged to flow into one another; quiet and introspective moments blend seamlessly into the moments of exuberance. The album starts tentatively with the airy piano and spare guitar of “I Was Married” and the carefully syncopated “Relief Next to Me,” but it takes off with the third track, which gives the album both its name and its attitude. Though the rest of the album just misses the pitch-perfect mark of “The Con,” many of the songs nearly recapture its energy and depth. “Hop a Plane” and “Like O, Like H” pair indie lyrical sensibility with Pat Benatar riffs. “Call It Off” finds its groove by restraining the guitars to maintain the tension throughout. The Con finishes strongly with “Call It Off,” where Tegan and Sara play off each other’s voices and a deceptively simple guitar riff to end both the album and a relationship.
The only major drawback here is the lyrical familiarity of some of the songs. “Nineteen,” “About Ten Years Ago,” and “Knife Going In” beat the tired teen-angst horse. There are too many good songs on the album to listen to another one based on a metaphor comparing a break-up to a knife wound. But those are incongruous with the rest of the album and edge Tegan and Sara into that pseudo-creepy, arrested-development area occupied by Good Charlotte. For the most part, The Con is a mostly mature collection of solid songs. The Quin twins could have rested on their cuteness for at least two more albums, but they instead opt for both musical and artistic growth.