Before HEARTTHROB, Tegan and Sara’s 2009 album marked the biggest change in the band’s sound. The band’s sound was much more streamlined than it had ever been before, and HEARTTHROB continues this trend. This record is, for better or worse, more produced, more streamlined, and more electronic than anything Tegan and Sara have ever done before. For those keeping track of these kinds of things, SAINTHOOD was a very split album: the songs penned by Sara were much more electronic and melodic (“Alligator”, “Night Watch,” “Red Belt”) and Tegan’s output was more in the vein of power-pop and alternative rock (“Hell,” “Northshore,” “The Ocean”). This time around, the distance between these songwriters has closed, and now, it’s difficult to tell who has written what. Even though this makes for a more cohesive record in the end, it comes at the cost of the variety and surprise that many of the past records had.
The album opens with its lead single, “Closer.” “Closer” is a good, solid, catchy tune, and it’s filled with many of the twin-on-twin harmonies that has become a hallmark for the band. The song lays the harmonies, electronic percussion, and synthesizers on nice and thick. Chris Walla (who produced the previous two albums and guitar player for Death Cab for Cutie) has been replaced with a small handful of other producers. Greg Kurstin picks up the bulk of the production work here – known for his work with Sia, Kylie Minogue, Pink, and Kelly Clarkson – and he definitely leaves his mark on the duo’s sound. “Closer” sets the tone for the rest of the album: it’s heavily melodic, but underneath all of the shiny production, there’s a well of heartache that Tegan and Sara have used for inspiration. “Love They Say” is one of the album’s songs tracks — it begins with just vocals and an acoustic guitar. The song works so well because it feels like one of the more organic tracks here, and the vocal interplay because Tegan and Sara makes it feel quite comfortable. The closing track, “Shock to Your System” is a heavily percussive way to end the record, but it refrain “what you are is lonely” stands out like an anthem.
For me, this album doesn’t completely work. Before this album, I’ve enjoyed each new album more than the previous one. HEARTTHROB isn’t bad – it’s surely better than most electronic-pop music out there – but it doesn’t come close to the heights of SAINTHOOD or THE CON. Listening to this album, there’s a small part of me that mourns one of the more interesting power-pop duos working today. Tegan and Sara have made music that was heartfelt, earnest, and interesting — there was something new and exciting about it. Halfway into HEARTTHROB, I could have sworn I had heard this album before already. The best predictor of whether or not you’ll like this album lies in your reaction to the lead single “Closer.” If you loved any of the band’s previous albums, you might hate this one, but you might also go crazy for it – it all depends on what you enjoyed most about the band. Either way, listen to this album a few times before making up your mind on it.
Recommend tracks to sample/download: “Closer,” “How Come You Don’t Want Me,” and “Love They Say”