Tegan and Sara, 'Heartthrob': Track-By-Track Review

89 Billboard Rating

TEGAN AND SARA
"Heartthrob"
Sire/Warner Bros.
Release Date: January 29

It takes 10 songs and a little over 36 minutes for Tegan and Sara Quin to redefine their profile within the confines of indie rock music, but "Heartthrob," the sibling duo's seventh studio album, is most assuredly a game-changing release from a veteran act.

Following 2009's "Sainthood," which took its tightly-wound rock cues from producer Chris Walla, Tegan and Sara have brought in Greg Kurstin (Kelly Clarkson, P!nk) to helm a synth-pop fantasia. The results are often staggeringly positive: first single "Closer" effortlessly twirls around its aggressively flirtatious refrain, "Drove Me Wild" mines the deep reserves of M83's electro-pop fever dreams, and "Goodbye, Goodbye" rolls three fresh hooks together in under three minutes.

Tegan and Sara Call 'Heartthrob,' Their 'Most Personal' Record Yet: Video

Most impressively, both Quin sisters maintain their sense of identity amidst the ear candy. They're still powering through broken romances and giving into sensory pleasures. On the technical side, the Quin sisters continue complementing each other's vocal strengths and knowing when to fill in each other's silences; the exchanged syllables on "I Was A Fool's" bridge, for instance, inject a sense of longing into the gooey arrangement.

Tegan and Sara had carved out a respectable position in rock music long before this album, but Kurstin's vibrant landscapes have provided the sisters' sound with new areas to roam. Even those who felt lukewarm to Tegan and Sara's past few efforts should fully embrace their dazzling pop rebirth on "Heartthrob," one of the best LPs of this young year.

Which tracks on "Heartthrob" are worth repeated listens? Check out our track-by-track take on Tegan and Sara's new album.

1. Closer

"It's! Not! Just our physical!" both sisters promise as the album's first single blooms into a public declaration of love after starting as pillow talk. Tegan and Sara told Billboard that "Closer's" chorus was rearranged at the last minute; whatever changes they made worked.

2. Goodbye, Goodbye - Underneath another gorgeous shade of pop lipstick is some expert percussion -- listen to how each pounding beat and cymbal ride complement the main melody and Tegan's ferocity.

3. I Was A Fool - The reflective piano line at the top of "I Was a Fool" is actually a red herring, as the song offers no break in momentum and quickly blooms into a mid-tempo sway. The lyrics are simple but effective, and Tegan delivers each word with purpose.

4. I'm Not Your Hero

An ode to individuality and the loss that it may inspire, "I'm Not Your Hero" carries an eloquent message, but compared to the rest of the album, is not quite arresting.

5. Drove Me Wild - Don't be fooled by the lightness of its synthesizer wave and Tegan's airy vocals: "Drove Me Wild" is an aggressive track both lyrically and musically, with a walloping rhythm supporting unapologetic sex memories. It's a song that would have been nearly impossible to envision Tegan and Sara creating a few years ago, but they sound wholly comfortable in this pop wonderland.

6. How Come You Don't Want Me - Synth lines twitch into the ether, and Sara blasts a former flame with a series of impossible-to-answer questions. New idiosyncrasies sprout into view after repeated listens, making for one of the album's most rewarding tracks.     

7. I Couldn't Be Your Friend - The sentiment "I couldn't be your friend/Even if I tried again" is a well-worn romantic trope, but crooned over a shuffling arrangement that caps off a steady build-up, the words become downright rapturous. Be sure to stick around for the glistening harmonies of the outro.   

8. Love They Say - If you can look past the simplistic lyrics ("You don't need to wonder/If love will make us stronger/There's nothing love can't do"), you'll be rewarded with an ornately arranged confection that sounds tailor-made for a teen movie soundtrack.

9. Now I'm All Messed Up - A dash of Kate Bush combined with P!nk's emotional vulnerability equals a decidedly bitter kiss-off from the twins, and a song that sounds like it will be great to hear (and sing back to them) live.

10. Shock To Your System - "Heartthrob" closes with shouts of "What you are is lonely!" and a surprisingly sparse piece of production. "Shock To Your System" is not the strongest song on the album, but it's a shade darker than most of the other tracks and hints at the Quin sisters' next exploration of pop music.

Questions? Comments? Let us know: @billboard

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