"All eyes are on you now," sing Tegan and Sara in their distinctive harmonies on "Floorplan," a track from their upcoming album The Con. One wonders whether the lyrics betray anxieties held by the "twin lesbian sisters from Canada," as they are often — and far too easily — labeled.
The Con, after all, is a highly anticipated collection of 14 new songs that follows their breakthrough album, the critically acclaimed So Jealous from 2004.
AfterEllen.com caught up with Tegan and Sara Quin in New York just days before The Con was leaked over the internet — more than a month before its official release date. The leak prompted them to consider releasing the material early on iTunes, but the duo’s publicist confirmed to AfterEllen.com last week that the album will not be available — digitally or on CD — until July 24.
Although the buzz surrounding The Con suggests the hype around a sophomore effort, the new release is actually the fifth studio album by Tegan and Sara, 26-year-old identical twins separated by eight crucial minutes that seem to grant Tegan a palpable seniority. Its title alone, indicative of furtive schemes or jail time, suggests that The Con offers a darker trip than the sprightly foray fans relished in So Jealous.
Tegan denies this observation in the facetious manner she brandishes regularly throughout the conversation. "It’s a really upbeat record; there’s a lot of dance hits on it," she said about The Con. "We’re definitely exploring a happier, settled, content side of ourselves," she insisted.
Her point is well taken. So Jealous also skewed dark, but the ominous language of favorites such as "Speak Slow" and "Walking With a Ghost" — later covered by the White Stripes — was disguised by upbeat music influenced by pop rock from the 1960s and ’70s. This deceptive blend, recognized by Rolling Stone as one of the top 50 albums of 2004, was produced by members of the New Pornographers and the Smugglers, two Canadian indie rock bands.
Lyrically and melodically, The Con brings more complexity and exploration. The track "Are You Ten Years Ago" introduces electronic indie-rap that recalls the work of Kathleen Hanna’s alter ego, Julie Ruin. Guitar goddess Kaki King, discovered by Sara last summer at the Montreal Jazz Festival, adds her acoustic and electric touch to the aforementioned "Floorplan" and plays lap steel on the plaintive "Knife Going In."
Sara, in her considered opinion, states: "This record — you need to listen to it. It’s a grower. But I think the reward is that it’s a better record than So Jealous."
Of course, catchy tunes still abound on The Con, produced by Chris Walla of Death Cab for Cutie. There is the bracing, super-synthesized title track and the peppy "Back in Your Head," with clever lyrics concerning the distance between lovers. Both tracks, which demonstrate Tegan and Sara’s trademark pop sensibility combined with new wave exuberance, were made available on the duo’s MySpace page in response to the leaking of the album.
Their gracious reply to the leak fiasco is indicative of the growing maturity of Tegan and Sara, who were signed to Neil Young’s Vapor Records in 2000 after getting noticed as teenage winners of a garage band contest in their hometown of Calgary, Alberta. Before heading into the studio to record The Con, they enjoyed an unprecedented period of rest, reflection and musical preparation. As usual, they wrote the songs independently and conferred on the results — Tegan from her base of Vancouver and Sara from Montreal.
And since So Jealous, they have experienced significant personal events, such as the death of their grandmother, that inspired some of the new music. Tegan, single for a year and a half now, endured the breakup of her five-year relationship, while Sara, in a serious relationship for four years, has contended with feeling like the breadwinner. In fact, they hint that The Con, as an album title, refers to the coping mechanisms adopted to navigate life’s pain, guilt and fear.
"You’ve done something for eight years," Tegan explained, "and looking back on that with all the time in the world to do whatever you want. You’re standing there at the crossroads being nostalgic and reflective, but you’re also looking forward and thinking, ‘God, what do I want?’"