Tegan and Sara may not be "all grown up" just yet -- their pixie-like qualities will likely accompany them into old age -- but they certainly keep growing musically with every new record. I've been a fan since 2002's If It Was You
, which still logs serious time in my car's CD player. My ex provided me with a copy of 2000's This Business of Art
last year, recorded back when the Quin twins were still teens, and even then the Ani Difranco comparisons, in both tone and talent, were evident. Accordingly, I felt a mix of excitement and trepidation while spinning So Jealous
for the first time. How would the girls follow up one of my favorite recent albums and still allow themselves the freedom to advance artistically?
The good news: So Jealous is no disappointment. It's definitely a departure from their earlier albums -- or, more precisely, an evolution -- but in no way did they drop the ball. Instead, they may now be playing a different game.
Where Tegan and Sara's previous work was engaging precisely because of its simplicity and copious hooks, So Jealous is easily the most "mature" record the girls have cut. The hooks are still there, but they now share time with richer production elements and omnipresent "accompaniment". Gone are the silences and small moments that made This Business of Art and If It Was You feel personal, intimate. Instead, the sisters Quin have crafted an album that unveils itself on a song-by-song basis, revealing layers of complexity between the sugary-sweet vocals and increasingly complicated song structures. This is an album that doesn't divulge all of its secrets on the first few listens. Could Tegan and Sara be growing up after all?
If nothing else, their influences -- and their ways of channeling them -- have certainly changed. "You Wouldn't Like Me" is trademark post-relationship trauma, tambourine-charged self-analysis, but where Tegan and Sara would once have been content to find a central hook and pin the song to it, they now build outward from that hook, exploring the possibilities those riffs and chords only hint at. "Walking with a Ghost" has a new wave sensibility and young Pretenders-like guitar licks, belying a newfound aggressive vibe that has replaced their former gleefully unfocused youthful exuberance. The title track threatens to bust out into a full-on rockfest for nearly three minutes but never delivers, trafficking instead in high-low, quiet-loud chicanery. As title tracks go, "So Jealous" does a good job of embodying the disc's general vibe: it's not what I expected, and not what it appears to be, but engaging, challenging and comfortable just the same.
I'll admit, it took me a good three spins to get into the flow of So Jealous -- but really, it was just a matter of time. There are still a few stumbling blocks in the mix -- the girls' puzzling tendency to over-repeat lyrics chief among them -- but these are small stylistic issues, likely to be corrected as their songwriting skills continue to sharpen. An album this catchy and complex wasn't going to keep me at bay for long. If It Was You may still be the grand champion of quick-hit pop rock for late night two hour drives, but now it has company.