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Tuesday, April 29, 2008

The Intimate Confessions of Tegan and Sara

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  Songwriters have long understood the poignancy that results from exposing their less-becoming side, but Tegan and Sara take self-disclosure to masochistic extremes. On their latest album of hyper-dramatic, uncomfortably autobiographical power-pop, The Con, the singing identical twins unabashedly cast themselves in the vilest light possible.

  “Sara and I both have this very self-deprecating, almost abusive way of looking at ourselves,” Tegan Quin explains. “We both feel like we can be very destructive and very pessimistic and very tortured and very weak, but in a weird way those are some of our best qualities.”

  The Quin sisters charm, mope and brood their way through the album, calculating each emotional ebb and flow to manipulate their romantic interests. They’re too enigmatic and forthcoming to hate outright, but the sisters are as much the album’s villains as they are its protagonists. It’s the silent partners on the receiving ends of their tantrums who elicit the most sympathy.

  The sisters split songwriting duties about evenly, so it’s surprising how cohesive the record is, especially considering the two were in diametrically opposite situations while writing these songs. Sara had just bought a house with her longtime partner, while Tegan was coming off of a five-year relationship.

  “Ostensibly, I was excited,” Tegan explains of her newfound freedom. “I was going out, I was traveling, I felt strong, I felt secure, I felt independent. I was having such an amazing time on the outside, but on the inside I was dying because I felt so bad.

  “And,” she adds, “I was trying to date this girl who wasn’t available.”

  The object of Tegan’s affection wasn’t interested in dating women, but, as The Con’s scathing title track details, that didn’t deter Tegan from pursuing her anyway. As the two women formed a friendship, Tegan’s pitch became more desperate, more aggressive.

  “We were talking hours and hours a day and sending hundreds and hundreds of texts and e-mails, and spending all this money on trips, and there would be times where I would pull away and just ask her, ‘Why? Why are you still calling me? Why is this still continuing?’” Tegan recalls. “I felt like I was conning her. There was some magic in me that was making this person question everything and continue this dance with me.

  “During this whole ordeal I was very confident and outgoing, but in my alone time I was crying on the floor every day—and I enjoyed it,” Tegan adds. “I enjoyed every second of my misery. The deeper and the darker it went, the more pleasant it felt.”

  On “The Con,” Tegan brandishes her tears as a weapon, a means to elicit guilt and, subsequently, affection from her love interest. “Nobody likes me,” she sings as if working out her next move, “maybe if I cry…”

  Sara, meanwhile, was battling her own anxieties. She was waking up in cold sweats after nightmares about the responsibilities of homeownership and domestic life. In her songs, she wrote of struggling to find a sustainable balance between commitment to her partner and independence. On some tracks she panics they’ve grown too reliant on each other; on others, too distant.

  “We built a wall of books between us in the bed,” she laments on “Back in Your Head,” the album’s first single, before positing an incriminating defense of the actions that presumably created this barrier: “I’m not unfaithful,” she pouts, “but I’ll stray when I get a little scared.”

  Adding another uncomfortable layer to The Con is the sense that, on some level, these songs aren’t just about the sisters’ romantic relationships, but also their relationship with each other, a premise Tegan deems valid.

  “There are times when I think that the musical partnership I have with my sister is 100% fucked up and unhealthy, and generally the people closest to us feel that way as well,” Tegan concedes.

  “But we’re so intertwined that it sometimes feels like a marriage, and music is our child. So we’ve been divorced numerous times now, but we still come back to this child, because it’s the most important thing, and we have to set aside our differences for it,” she continues. “Of course, it could just be because I come from a broken home that I use that reference.”

Tegan and Sara play an 8 p.m. show at the Pabst Theater on Wednesday, May 7.