Tegan and Sara Dig Into the Past and Bring on the Future With ‘Hey, I’m Just Like You’
Canada’s Tegan and Sara are a duo that nudge you to reconsider your perspective, and emphatically force you to do so, being the perfect embodiment of everything that it is unconventional and provocative, while still remaining freshly relatable and magnetic, in a visceral way. The pair of twin sisters, Tegan Rain Quin and Sara Keirsten Quin, churn out songs that tap into this modestly aware mentality in a way that has seen good measures, with their album “Hey, I’m Just Like You.” For this record, they sought inspiration from teenage years. That itself is nothing special, but in this case, Tagen and Sara sought out actual songs from the past, fully written, from years that far back, furnished them with a new light, and gave a glimpse into a past feeling, excavated, replenished with new context, and presented for all to enjoy.
Opener “Hold My Breath Until I Die” immediately sets the tone that prevails throughout the album, diving straight into verse, bridge, and chorus with no bother for any unnecessary drivel, with every bit popping readily, and as such, zeroing on in an attribute particularly important to Tegan and Sara’s immediate appeal — immediately memorable melodies patched together uncluttered with a decidedly outsider posturing that rarely lends itself to such cool directness. Of course, this tendency is amplified by the fact that these were songs written in high school, when it’s fair to say instincts generally take the lead. It’s difficult not to consider the peculiar case of Tegan and Sara being identical twins, when reflecting upon lyrics like the titular line, as if one sister would still live on in the other — somewhat. The same goes for the harmonies, and vocal exchanges, with the voices so similar that it comes across as overdubbing in an alternate reality.
This implicit, but glaring phenomenon finds closer focus on the titular single. Consider the lyrics “Eat the drugs and dance to screaming in my head / I’m so happy that we’re friends / Me and you.” Sara has spoken of how she and Tegan were ever the rebellious teenagers, skipping school and taking acid, and how the song came together at a moment when the inevitable acrimony of sibling rivalry seemed to dissipate, and reveal a camaraderie and shared spirit long obscured by accumulated trivialities. Lyrics like “I never feel invisible when you’re around / With you, I don’t blend in with the millions” could be poignant words in any effective love song, making a case for Tegan’s and Sara’s peculiar relationship serving as a highly concentrated realization of a mentality broadly relatable. The line “Tonight in the dark, we’re seeing colors” comes upon a brief but potent crescendo, and conveys the idea of perspective shifting in a flash, all in the context of an easily hummable, punchy tune.
Lead single “I’ll Be Back Someday” was written shortly after Tegan and Sara got an electric guitar as a sixteenth birthday present. From the first few seconds, the song sounds steeped in the spirit of the times, in this particularly case very pop-punk, worlds removed from the synth pop stylings that the duo is often more associated with. Chances are that the lyrics came to mind without any grand deliberation, but they nevertheless center upon a significant idea — the dilemma of whether to act or wait it out. Lyrics like “I wanna call and ask, “What’s up?” / Go to dial, but then I stop (Why don’t you call?)” give way to exclamations of “I run, run, run, run, run away… But I’ll be back someday.”
“Don’t Believe the Things They Tell You (They Lie)” is an effective articulation of the often overlooked double-edge of cynicism and sincerity, with lyrics like “Things get lost in translation,” and “I don’t want to be a liar, but I do it every day,” exclaimed with an eruption of distorted guitars, in proper ‘90s angst style. It’s still very pop and polished in its overall texture, but with dynamics that undeniably nod to the edgier styles that informed it. “Hello, I’m Right Here” is full of string embellishments that effectively adopt the song’s underlying essence, and lift it into a plane that allows it new resonance, making a convincing case for the practice of excavating lost songs and refurbishing them with modern production. Lyrically, the song is a bit like a reprise of “Hey, I’m Just Like You,” expressing a simultaneous uncertainty and clarity, that finds its way into the refrain “Hello, hello, hello I’m right here.”
There are moments when the songs can seem a little too hastily put together — the downside of the same aforementioned laudable immediacy. “I Don’t Owe You Anything” sounds as if someone from management were prying open doors, and demanding, “Girls, get to the chorus already!” Considering that these were songs written before any such meddling intrusions came into the equation, it’s even more curious. At any rate, the song centers on a universally relatable topic that deserves more consideration, as highlighted in the lyrics “Oh, when you’re magic wears off what then? / Will you forgive me when I am done?” Come “I’m Not the Only One,” it’s hard not to notice the thread in the last three song titles. This song, as well as “Hey, I’m Just Like You,” in the latter case with the “Helo, Hello” line, both appropriate lyrics from Nirvana songs, while the song between them, “I Don’t Owe You Anything” uses as its title the refrain from Foo Fighters’ “I’ll Stick Around.” It certainly adds an air of authenticity to the concept of the album as a look back at teenage years, at least. And lines like “The luck that brought you to me, won’t hold us any longer” reveal a precocious perception.
An acoustic-driven number comes at just the right time, with “Please Help Me,” shining a light on some of the duo’s influences that don’t make their way quite as much into this album, for example perhaps Ani diFranco, but still only subtly. It’s common practice for one singer to repeat the last few utterances of the other singer in affected echo stylings, but when identical twins come into the equation, it becomes all the more fascinating, making the repetitions arguably seem like naturally reverberations rather than designed repetitions. The next song comes with the striking title “Keep Them Close ‘Cause They Will Fuck WIth You Too.” Considering how already taxing it is, especially as a teenager, to make sense of who exactly is on your side and who isn’t, and then adding the extra dimension of having an identical twin — a situation that offers consolation, but encourages defienace for the sake of asserting individuality, lyrics like “Keep them close cause they will fuck you too / I will keep you close, I got nothing better to do” hit close to home.
“We Don’t Have Fun Anymore” nudges closer to the dancey, free celebratory feel, even if dark, in Tegan and Sara’s previous work. It’s not quite as punchy and pointed, but considering that it came from the same set of songs written while the two were in high school, it’s especially interesting to consider the core sentiment, as it shows the roots of an aesthetic that would eventually find realization. This song is again a reaffirmation, this time much more gleefully festive of the topic addressed in the title track. And it’s safe to assume, by the song’s finish, that it’s come to a happy ending. Drawing on this momentum, what better conduit to serve the occasion than ‘80s signifiers? “You Go Away and Don’t Mind” keenly picks up on this opportune situation, and fleshes it out perfectly, with the lines “Yeah, you go away go away well I’ll be fine / Bye, bye, bye I still want you.”
It’s not so rare of an occurrence that an album especially fraught with emotion comes to closure with a strikingly placid closer, suggesting that most demons have been expelled and label offerings are nudging to some gesture of conclusion. In the case of Tegan and Sara, it’s less of a jarring ending, as their music is always readily registerable pop, to begin with. That said, the final track, “All I Have To Give The World Is Me,” fits this categorization without really falling into any of the presumed pitfalls. The refrain is “All I have to show this world, is me, and that’s it / Just me, just me, just me and that’s it.” The line sums up the album as best as anything could. If you’re expecting the exact sound of Tegan and Sara’s first singles, then you’ll be surprised, and Tegan and Sara would probably be happy that you are. This is a throwback of sorts, returning to the duo’s first years, so it will be especially appreciated by longtime fans, who will get a thrill from sinking their teeth into all of the unspoken influences and intimations that gave rise to a sound that struck a chord with them. For others, it has a universal balance of pop and edge. That should strike and resonate on its own free merit.
“Hey. I’m Just Like You” is available Sept. 27 on Apple Music