Showing posts with label tegan and sara. Show all posts
Showing posts with label tegan and sara. Show all posts

Friday, October 4, 2019

video review: 'hey, i'm just like you' by tegan and sara

Really welcome surprise with this one - really happy it came together, definitely check this out!

Next up... hmm, I want to knock something off my backlog that I've been liking for some time, so stay tuned!

Thursday, October 3, 2019

album review: 'hey, i'm just like you' by tegan and sara

So I'll admit this was a swerve I didn't expect from Tegan and Sara. When this duo went outright synthpop on Heartthrob in 2013 and followed it up with Love You To Death three years later, I assumed their path had been set, especially given how much crossover success they found in the mean time. Sure, some of the diehard rock set were a little alienated by the pivot, but it seemed like a lot of them were more forgiving in the end, especially if they remembered how they started very early in their career with songs that flirted with pop structures.

But I won't deny that I was among the people who were both surprised and a little encouraged that the duo was going to bring back their electric guitars for their newest project Hey, I'm Just Like You. More to the point, it would be revisiting and tweaking many cuts they had written or cut as demos in their teenage years but given the benefit of twenty years in the industry, a little more refinement. And to me this seemed like a fascinating but smart choice: I've long held the opinion that their pop pivot did wonders for tightening up their writing and easing the strained stabs at indie rock obliqueness that left me more frustrated with their work in the 2000s than I'd normally like to admit. Now granted, I had no idea how this would translate to 2019 - going back to So Jealous and The Con, those are two records with structures and tones that are inextricably linked to the 2000s, and a quick relisten to both projects reminded me precisely how hit-and-miss they could be, especially on the more twee side - but I did see the potential, so what did we get on Hey, I'm Just Like You?

Sunday, June 5, 2016

video review: 'love you to death' by tegan and sara

Man alive, this review was absolute hell to write. Kept hoping that it'd click more and it just didn't... but thankfully, I got it out of my system. Next up would have been Dierks Bentley... but then Jennifer Nettles showed up and delivered a real surprise, so it'll probably be both dropping tomorrow, so stay tuned!

album review: 'love you to death' by tegan and sara

So let's go back to the topic of 'selling out'.

Now a few episodes back I raised the point about how even when it didn't involve a shift in genre that 'selling out' wasn't inherently a bad thing - hell, sometimes it's the first chance for bands to discover a knack for melody or hooks that they'd never bothered with in the past. And for those who do pivot towards pop... well, a pop sensibility isn't exactly a bad thing if it leads to populism without compromising artistic identity - or hell, even if it does, if the hooks are irresistible I'm prepared to forgive a lot.

Want a perfect example of that? Tegan And Sara, the Canadian indie rock identical twins that developed a decent amount of buzz in Canada but I would never consider them an act I liked. Sure, they have a couple songs in that genre that I liked - the most notable being the title track from their 2007 album The Con - but for the most part I was never impressed by their songwriting or their hooks, even if I could appreciate some of the unique ideas that colored albums like Sainthood. They were always a band I wanted to like a lot more than I did - and yet in 2013, they partnered with producer Greg Kurstin, who has worked with nearly every mainstream pop act in the past decade, to release Heartthrob. The album was an outright pivot into synthpop, and I will handily say it was the best record they've ever released. It wasn't quite a great album - it falls off after the first six or so songs, and I wasn't wild about the gratuitous pitch correction - but it was such a better fit than indie rock for the pair, if only because it accentuated the strength of their melodies and better fit the lighter scope of their writing. And while everyone loved 'Closer', I was much more impressed with 'I Was A Fool', which was one of my favourite songs of 2013.

But now it's three years later, Tegan And Sara had ditched all other producers besides Greg Kurstin, and the edit for the album looked tighter than ever, barely over a half hour. And sure, Greg Kurstin's star might have been tarnished a bit with overexposure - between Sia, Lily Allen, and Kelly Clarkson, he's been attached to far too much lackluster pop music - but I had faith they could synthesize something awesome: did they make it work?

Tuesday, May 7, 2013

album review: 'heartthrob' by tegan & sara (RETRO REVIEW)

Let's talk about the Manic Pixie Dream Girl.

Now, before any of you leap down my throat at why on earth I'm even mentioning this topic in connection with Tegan & Sara, well, be patient. For starters, I feel the concept needs to be clarified a bit and expanded upon beyond its TVTropes definition. But in case you have no idea what a Manic Pixie Dream Girl is, here's the cliff notes: a Manic Pixie Dream Girl is an attractive, 'high-on-life' female character that seems overstuffed with quirk and personality, and who typically is (for some ungodly reason) attracted to the main male character. Originally coined by acclaimed film critic Nathan Rabin (formerly of the AV Club) in 2005, he viewed the trope as grating and a little insufferable - and having sat through all of Garden State and seen Natalie Portman's performance in that movie, I could well agree. 

However, Anita Sarkeesian (of the now somewhat notorious Feminist Frequency) has in the past deemed the trope simply a disguise for shallow female characters who use their quirk and their spontaneity to disguise their need for male companionship. And while I'll definitely agree with this assessment for the worse entries in this genre, I think it only touches on the surface of this trope and needs to be examined further (yes, I will get to talking about the Tegan & Sara album, give me a few minutes).

Really, the term 'surface' is what becomes important in discussing the Manic Pixie Dream Girl, because it's a classic case of writers failing to deepen their characters beneath the surface impression, particularly in the modern age of the Internet. In the worst cases, it's used as shallow stereotyping of female characters for the male love interest, but I'll raise the deeper problems that occur even with the better examples of this trope, mostly because it still relies on a surface categorization.

You see, you can have a character with quirks and weirdness and who does odd things for no apparent reason who might seem to fit the Manic Pixie Dream Girl mold, but I argue the second you begin providing a rationale why that character behaves like she does, the categorization doesn't quite fit anymore. Take Luna Lovegood from the Harry Potter series - by all intents and purposes, she could be described as a Manic Pixie Dream Girl, at least on the surface. She's spacey, she's not quite engaged with everyone else going on, she's distinctly weird amongst a society full of wizards, but as you get to know the character, you realize there are reasons for her oddness (broken family, her father's a nutcase, isolation and loneliness, I could go on) and a deep underlying sadness to her character. And once you find out all of this, she's not really a Manic Pixie Dream Girl anymore, but a fully fleshed-out three-dimensional character. 

But for a character to remain a typical 'Manic Pixie Dream Girl', it all needs to remain on the surface. To me, there's an underlying shallowness to that persona that is quite revealing - the random quirk needs to be for its own sake or for completely arbitrary/nonsense reasons, otherwise the character becomes more fleshed out and loses everything but a surface connection to the trope. But that also becomes part of the problem when introducing female characters adhering to this trope into the typical narrative - because I find it hard to take any of the 'insight' that these characters are typically written to carry as all that profound, or even genuine. Once again, all that random inanity is on the surface, and while occasional nuggets of wisdom might fall out by accident or coincidence (both of which tend to be the worst kind of plotting), I don't really find that character as attractive as I used to.

I think it needs to be noted, however, that the majority of people don't agree with me on  this subject, because the Manic Pixie Dream Girl archetype is big right now, particularly in the age of the Internet. It's why Lunajacking became a meme, Jennifer Lawrence has an Oscar for that reprehensible bit of shit Silver Linings Playbook, and Zooey Deschanel has a career. And once again, I get the attraction to random quirkiness - it's interesting and catchy, at least on a surface level, and I certainly get the attraction to it. Hell, some people who know me would argue I've dated Manic Pixie Dream Girls in the past.

But here's the big point that needs to be raised in defence of those girls, and the reason I come down harder on the Manic Pixie Dream Girl trope than probably even Sarkeesian: it's not real. The girls I've dated who might seem like the traditional Manic Pixie Dream Girls on the surface have all turned out to have depth and complexity and something to say that justifies their quirkiness - and as I described above, that doesn't make them Manic Pixie Dream Girls anymore, it makes them fucking human beings. Sure, people can be shallow and do things for inexplicable reasons, but deep down, there is a rationale governing their behaviour which lends humanity beyond the stereotype. To come back to why I hate Silver Linings Playbook so goddamn much, the reason that film fails is because it initially tries pretty hard to portray Bradley Cooper's and Jennifer Lawrence's mental ailments as real as possible - and then phones it in the third act to craft the crowd-pleasing Hollywood rom-com bullshit that strips Lawrence's character of depth so she becomes just another Manic Pixie Dream Girl. It's dishonest filmmaking, and as I stated in my essay regarding transgressive art, if you want to make your transgression work, you have to pay it off realistically. Silver Linings Playbook doesn't do this, and instead gives us a very 'Hollywood' portrayal of mental illness that's pretty damn insulting at the end.

But putting aside Silver Linings Playbook, I'll still argue the Manic Pixie Dream Girl archetype is pretty alarmingly sexist on both sides, as it becomes rather revealing of some uncomfortable prejudices for both men and women. On the female side, particularly for girls who might see these characters as role models or an image/style they might find appealing, how is this any different at the root than other prevailing cultural attitudes and likes defined by male tastes? Is adapting what is inherently a surface level trope defined by being at surface level what you want? Do you want your views to be marginalized and shoved to the side and not taken seriously because they're viewed as 'cute' or 'quirky' or 'precious'? Do you want to be treated like girls rather than women?

And I didn't touch on this previously, but I think it needs to be raised now, particularly when addressing male preferences for the Manic Pixie Dream Girl, particularly the emphasis on the last word in that phrase. Outside of very specific cases, this speaks to a sexual immaturity with men looking not for women who can match them as equals, but girls. Does this mean male obsession with the Manic Pixie Dream Girl reveal a desire for girls who are immature by definition and thus need that assertive male guidance, but just quirky and random enough to evoke a sliver of surface thought so we can delude ourselves we're desiring someone who is 'deep'? 

Frankly, the more I think about this issue, the more I think it reflects a lot worse on male preferences than anything. And while it definitely doesn't surprise me the arsenal of man-children who fill the Internet like a bad fungus have embraced this trope, it's a lot more worrying and uncomfortable to see girls and particularly women embrace it without consideration of the implications. And once again, I think part of this links back to the hipster problem I've talked about at great length, and while I will always stress it's a great thing that more people have the freedom to express themselves and be different, it should come from genuine emotion. Not a desire to be different for the sake of being different or fit a certain group - or, to put it another way, quirky just for the sake of being quirky or fit a certain stereotype.

And with all of that, we finally come to Tegan & Sara, indie rock's own Manic Pixie Dream Lesbians.