Saturday, 21 November 2009

Tegan and Sara: Band of the Decade

Over the final five weeks of the year I will be counting down the events, the music, and the television shows that shaped my decade. I thought it only fitting to write the first piece of this series on the band of the decade.

2004 proved to be an historic year for me in retrospect. I met my best friend, and fell in love for the first time (and then out again). Politically, it was the year after I joined the ALP. It would also provide me with my Honours thesis topic in 2007 when Mark Latham electorally ruining my beloved party. Despite all this, 2004 sticks out in my mind for one reason. It would prove to be the year my musical life changed forever. It was the year I discovered Tegan and Sara.


Tegan and Sara are unquestionably my band. Just like Pavement were for my brother, and Steely Dan were for my father. I can envisage a time in 2025 when I am 42 years old, working in my office, grading papers, marking assignments or writing my maiden parliamentary speech, and I know exactly who I’ll be listening to. Tegan and Sara.

I have not and will never get The Beatles, I think they are overrated, no talent hacks. I assume the reason why hordes of the public flock to them like mindless sheep is that they make the complex seem easy. Tegan and Sara achieve this for me. Listen to Take Me Anywhere. At the heart of it is a seemingly simple pop song, typical of a girl who wrote it at 23 (as Tegan was at the time). However those who think this are missing the sheer artistry of the song. The arrangement makes the song. The way Tegan is so definite when the bridge comes in (Take me by the hand/and tell me you would take me anywhere) and then the backing vocals come in, and then suddenly the wall of sound develops that fills the listener with utter joy. Moments such as that are the reason I listen to music.

Tegan and Sara are honest and genuine. There is no bullshit whether it is in their music or their life. Lesbians? So what? Twins? So what? Their record company folds? They proceed to make not only their most artistically rewarding album to date, but their most commercially successful. Two years later they even manage to better this success in both respects. How many other artists can you say have achieved this?

I cannot exactly say why I connect with the girls so much. Not a day goes by where I cannot listen to their albums multiple times. My Last Fm tells me I have listened to their songs 117,700 times in just over three years. Some would say this is obsessive. This is true. They are my life.

It is the reason I flew down the East Coast of Australia to see them in concert three times in four days. It was the best week of my life bar none. These girls make life worth living. No matter what is going on, all of their songs provide me with comfort no matter what the mood. I can play Dark Come Soon when I’m feeling shitty, Downtown when I’m feeling sombre, Soil, Soil when I’m heartbroken, When I Get Up when I’m pining, Come On Kids when I’m hopeful, Someday when I’m inspired, On Directing when I feel invigorated, and Knife Going In when I am in the mood to sing along.

Tegan and Sara provide music for all occasions that is not only artistically satisfying, but emotionally gratifying. This comes from the intriguing yet contradictory partnership of the two Quin sisters. In the decade since they released their first album they’ve only written one song together. They write and record individually, yet seamlessly meld together in a live setting. Tegan is the emotionally brash one whose pop sensibilities instantly hit you right between the eyes as she commands your attention. Sara, on the other hand is thoughtful, deliberate and methodical relying on her innate intelligence to draw the listener in slowly but surely. In effect this gives the listener two bands for the price of one: double the pleasure at half the cost.

The progression between each of their five albums speaks to the kind of artists they have become. This Business of Art was an exercise in self discovery as they developed their own unique songwriting styles. Although the album would heavily feature an acoustic vibe that would become the norm of 2000, they quite rightly jettisoned this approach in order to create a fuller sound. If It Was You marked the first time Tegan and Sara made a conventional pop record embracing the short, punchy emotional songs that would later become their trademark. With So Jealous they entered the mainstream of sorts, willing to try unconventional approaches whilst making arguably their most accessible album to date. The Con displayed a focused emotional maturity, which highlighted that Tegan and Sara were not only great musicians, but perhaps the finest artists of their generation. Sainthood pushed these boundaries even further and proved that the capabilities are unparalleled and the possibilities as they enter their second decade as professional musicians are limitless. Each record is not only a progression in their lives, but also a progression in mine as each of these albums have served as the soundtrack to my experiences both painful and delightful.

Tegan and Sara are my band. They are the band of the decade. They are the band of my decade. They are the band of my twenties. That stage of life when all of the possibilities are endless, and the search for identity is eternally frustrating. The decade that has marked more disappointments than victories, but with each of the former, comes the latter that is 10,000 times more gratifying. Tegan and Sara symbolise all of this and so much more. They are more than just a soundtrack to my life. They are more than just musical idols. They have formed an integral part of my life. Forget about the band of the decade: Tegan and Sara are a once in a life time band.

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