Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Tinny & Squealy

We can’t always defend our preferences. Sometimes our best response is “I just do.”

That’s the way I feel about Tegan & Sara, Canadian altnerno-indie twins whose music can be a little challenging to describe.

The lazy way out is to call them the Bizarro Indigo Girls. Both duos harmonize and share songwriting responsibilities. Both are kinda gay but not, like, with their musical partners.

The Indigo Girls have a sound that feels warm and comfortable, an afghan someone’s grandmother made that you wrap around your legs while reading a book on a rocker on the back porch of a lake house. Tegan & Sara, on the other hand, are all dissonance and flats, the tension of two girls staring nose to nose on the playground after school.

When the Indigo Girls are heartbroken, theirs is a resignation to the cruel waves of fate. It’s a sadness on the bottom of the ocean. If you break Tegan & Sara’s heart, you’re a little worried that they might show up to work with a firearm or poison for your next cup of coffee. If the Indigo Girls are cuddling and talking after sex, Tegan & Sara are scratches on the back and bites on the neck.

Indigo Girls are Erika Berger. T&S are Lisbeth Salander.

Here are descriptors I would rarely use for any song by T&S:
  • pretty
  • country
  • sweet
  • beatific vocals
  • folk
The first time I ever heard a T&S song, comparisons to fingernails and chalkboards seemed far too easy yet deservingly accurate. Maybe by the fourth or fifth time I’d stumbled over them did I actually find myself intrigued enough to pay attention. The awesome truth about rock music is that it requires neither angelic voices nor orchestral arrangements. Tinny shrill voices layered over a catchy riff is enough if the words have punch and the right emotions receive a tug.

In Tegan & Sara’s case, they accomplish their mission more often than not. Their goal is not beauty so much as truth, the bald Captain Picard kind.

At the heart of both groups, however, is that rock staple of people who just want to be loved, who hate heartbreak, who sometimes hate themselves. Tags like “lesbians” or “women” or “alternative” or “folk” are just distractions from songwriters who ultimately journey over the same lyrical zip codes as a Daughtry or Journey.

I wrote about my favorite song of theirs recently, but here’s a sampling of others you might consider. Truth is, randomly pick just one of these songs, but listen to it at least five or six times. If, on that fifth listen, you still can’t get past those voices and those flat notes, don’t sweat it. No band is worth that much effort. Plenty of fish in the sea for all of us, right? Moreso in music than anywhere.

But if something clicks, if you feel them working their way into your veins... well, they’ll be in there for a long, long time.

Top 9 T&S Songs (in no particular order and excluding “Dark Come Soon”):
If you want a single album, the best choice is So Jealous, although The Con is so very close to it that either choice would be worthy. Or just hop over to eMusic and spend use a few credits to pile up a decent collection. Then pop open a bitter IPA and crank the volume. Tegan & Sara go great with an IPA. Both are strong and bitter. And both, in the right moment, hit the spot like nothing else.

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