Tegan and Sara – ‘Crybaby’ review: the duo’s most sonically adventurous record yet
It’s fair to say that Tegan and Sara Quin have been revelling in nostalgia recently. 2019’s ‘Hey, I’m Just Like You’, released as a counterpart to their coming-of-age memoir High School (which was recently adapted into a TV series), saw the Calgary twins revisit the demos they wrote as teenagers, giving them a synth-pop spray-paint. The duo then released their pandemic project ‘Still Jealous’ back in February, which reimagined their 2004 LP ‘So Jealous’.
‘Crybaby’, the Canadian pair’s tenth studio album, brings them back to the present-day, and is the complete opposite to the stripped-back stylings of ‘Still Jealous’. The ‘Crybaby’ writing process began during the pandemic when Tegan used the sampling app Keezy to record a couple of “glitchy, lo-fi” bedroom pop demos. Eventually venturing into the studio with St. Vincent collaborator John Congleton, these rough sketches morphed into ‘Crybaby’’s arresting opening two tracks: the brash, anxiety-ridden power pop opener ‘I Can’t Grow Up’ (written about not being able to break the cycle of bad habits in relationships) and the gorgeous, neon-hued mid-tempo ballad ‘All I Wanted’.
Tegan and Sara initially only intended to record a couple of standalone singles, but they became so fired-up creatively that full album sessions then took place. This release also marks their most collaborative work yet: for the first time, the sisters dissected the songs on ‘Crybaby’ together (as opposed to working as two separate islands) as they went along the writing and recording process.
Having previously aimed for the mainstream back in 2013 with their glossy, handbrake-turn of an album ‘Heartthrob’, ‘Crybaby’ at times acts as a wonky alt-pop bridge between the pair’s rockier emo-guitars of old and their latter-day synth-pop incarnation. For an album born in the chaos of COVID, it sounds equally transitional: retaining their core DNA of producing perfectly crafted heartfelt pop songs with an us-against-the-world spirit, while also representing their most experimental and sonically adventurous record yet.
Awash with vocal loops, pitch-shifts and twitching electronics, there’s much to explore on ‘Crybaby’. Take the DayGlo beats of ‘Pretty Shitty Time’, or the skittish synths of ‘Fucking Up What Matters’ and ‘Smoking Weed Alone’ – all of which feature titles that comes across like lockdown-prompted post-mortems of past mistakes. The gorgeous, crepuscular ballad ‘Faded Like A Feeling’ (“Even when I was lying right there next to you / I was nothing but a shadow’) is as tender as a new bruise, and you can practically see the hands swaying in the air during the record’s sky-scraping emotional highlight ‘Yellow’.
The record’s eclecticism continues with ‘I’m Okay’, which sounds like what might happen if Charli XCX co-wrote a hyperpop song with Tegan and Sara. The album title’s origin, meanwhile, is revealed in a lyric from ‘Under My Control’, which boasts ‘Hollaback Girl’-style cheerleader chants.
If there’s one criticism you could level at ‘Crybaby’, it’s that its slow-burning nature lacks the immediacy or clear-focused thrills of ‘Heartthrob’ and 2016’s ‘Love You To Death’, or the clever concept behind ‘Still Jealous’. But once ‘Crybaby’ truly clicks into place, it makes for another solid collection from a band ever-resistant to categorisation.
Release date: October 21
Label: Mom + Pop Music
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