Top Ten Albums of 2000-2009: #1…

And so, we’ve finally reached the top. First, a quick recap/countdown/linkfest:

#10 – XTRMNTR
#9 – The Argument
#8 – Arular
#7 – Two Suns
#6 – White Blood Cells
#5 – They Were Wrong, So We Drowned
#4 – Fever to Tell
#3 – Funeral
#2 – Face Control

Leaving us with…

#1
Tegan and Sara
The Con
[2007]

Tegan and Sara - The Con

Tegan and Sara are a group consisting of a pair of twins (of the same name), both of whom happen to be gay (and Canadian). In media coverage, the whole “gay twins” angle gets brought up a lot. They’re never unwilling to discuss it, though they sometimes seem a bit miffed at having the focus moved away from their music. Which is understandable. However, were it not for the “gay twins” angle, they may never have entered my life.

In June 2008, I was completely oblivious to Tegan and Sara. I had never (and still haven’t ever) watched The L Word or Grey’s Anatomy – and the associations probably would have dissuaded me from giving them a chance, had I known about them – well, the latter one anyway. I had even somehow escaped ever hearing ‘Walking With a Ghost’. Then, during that month, I read a message board discussion on whether one twin being gay would mean a higher likelihood of the other being gay – essentially a discussion on the potential influence of genetics and upbringing on a person’s sexuality.

The instigator of that thread had brought it up after being exposed to some band that consisted of a pair of gay twins… In a fleeting moment of curiosity, I grabbed a copy of their then most recent album, which had been released the previous summer. It was called The Con.

When listening to an album for the first time, unless it’s the long-awaited new release of one of my favourite artists, or something I’ve already heard one or two tracks from and am very excited about, or something recommended to me by someone whose musical opinion I wholeheartedly trust, I don’t always give it my 100%, utmost, undivided, stop-everything-put-on-the-headphones attention.  Especially not if it’s an album I’ve acquired on a complete and utter whim.

In those situations, I usually put it on in the background and continue reading whatever it was I was reading, or doing the dishes, or whatever menial task is at hand. If it grabs me, it grabs me. If it’s not instantly offensive, I’ll give it another try or two later. But if it doesn’t hook me then, it’s possible that it could quickly fade into the recesses of my collection. It might only get a reprieve if I stumble across one of its tracks through a different medium – or if one catches me by surprise on a shuffle through library. So the “whim-got” albums have a tougher job to win me over. They don’t get as much benefit-of-the-doubt…

Listening to The Con for the first time, the first few tracks certainly did not offend me. It sounded pleasant enough. But nothing jolted me in a good way either. That was until the sixth of its 14 tracks burst upon my ears. This track (which I would later learn had been, very understandably, chosen as the album’s lead single) got a hold of me as soon as it started, with that opening piano melody jumping into my cranium:

It’s a truly infectious song. All of the elements conspire to make you powerless to resist it: A simple beat propels it on, with a shaker skittering about; the aforementioned piano hook punctuates the chorus lines as it pleasantly punctuates your skull; the bass – the song’s secret weapon – bounces up and down and all around; and even the lyric, ostensibly about a relationship, sounds like it’s speaking for song itself, saying it just wants to get (back) into our heads. And it does.

After encountering ‘Back In Your Head’, my attention was pretty rapt. I listened to the rest of the album. And then I went back and listened to it from the start again. And again. And again…

Each track was a winner. Of course, some were more immediate than others. One of the early favourites was the album’s title track, the third song on the album:

After more listens – along with inevitable obsessive reading up about the band – the differing personalities became more apparent. I had assumed, like many do, that they were quite a collaborative pair. But in fact, it was quite the opposite. The two wrote almost entirely independently of each other. And they recorded things in a fairly separate fashion too: Although they got additional personnel involved in the studio, many of the recordings only feature one sister. (Live, they perform together seamlessly, which sort of adds to the confusion…)

The default distinction is that Tegan is responsible for the more straightforward/rockier/poppier tracks, while Sara’s output tends to be more intricate/complex/subtle. There are, of course, some “uncharacteristic” exceptions, such as the poppiest track (‘Back In Your Head’) being a Sara song and Tegan having the two quietest numbers on the album.

But though I began to understand the differences between them more, I didn’t gravitate to either more than the other. It wasn’t like with Fugazi or Sonic Youth, where I tended to be more immediately drawn to a particular voice (though in those groups it did tend to be mainly just the vocalist that was different – and the bands wrote the music collectively). Instead, I could appreciate both – separately, but equally. ‘Twas a winning combination.

Later, my appreciation for their distinct styles, their distinct personalities, them as a group – and for the album specifically – would all be increased further when I watched The Con: The Movie, a making-of documentary that came on a DVD with the special edition of the album (which I would later get my hands on).

It’s funny in that I often find myself arguing that an artist’s music should stand on its own – and how one’s opinion of the music shouldn’t be coloured by how one feels about the artist. This usually comes up when talking about artists who are arseholes, but who sometimes produce top-quality music (Billy Corgan springs to mind).

But I broke my own rule with The Con. Watching that documentary allowed my to get to know Tegan and Sara and the dynamic between them – and then essentially just fell in love with them. And I think it actually made me love the album more. Highly illogical and irrational, but I believe that’s what happened.

I highly recommend seeking out the doc, even just as a general music-making-related piece of film. Here’s a sample (the “chapter” on Sara’s brooking track, ‘Like O, Like H’):

It took a while for a favourite individual track to appear. As with my #2 album of that decade, it was the last track on the album that took me the longest to fully appreciate it. But when I finally did, it superseded all the others. I still find it difficult to hear ‘Call It Off’ and not play it at least twice more.

It’s is one of those two quiet Tegan tracks on the album (also featuring Sara on backing vocals). It’s short, it’s simple, it’s sweet…

…and it’s also fitting way to end things – both the album and this series of posts!