The indie-pop duo wrestle with ideas of maturity and self-doubt on one of their most compelling albums yet.
In the two-plus decades since twin sisters Tegan and Sara Quin started making music together, they’ve become more than just a beloved pop duo; High School, the Clea DuVall-created TV show based on their joint memoir of the same name, debuted on Amazon FreeVee earlier this month, and their LGBTQ activism has included a foundation, a covers album saluting their 2007 smash The Con, and even an ice cream flavor.
But music has always been at the center of their partnership, and on their tenth album that core has been changed up a bit — they’re on a new label, working with new management, and collaborating with a new producer, John Congleton. Perhaps appropriately, Crybaby explodes all preconceived notions about the Tegan & Sara sound from jump: “I Can’t Grow Up” opens with distorted vocals and firework synths — as well as a frenetic beat that’s the pace for the rest of the track, which feels like an uneasily exhilarating race to the finish between the vocals and the bassline; the lyrics, which wrestle with passion and how it meshes with ideas of “maturity” and self-doubt, only heighten the intensity.
Crybaby is a wild ride, with Tegan and Sara’s voices twinning and uncoupling on songs that vibrate with feeling while having the kind of lightness that comes with wrapping up larger-than-life sentiments in glittering pop gems. The title has an irony to it; there’s a grappling with the big emotions that come with getting older on songs like the galloping “Fucking Up What Matters,” which spins out of a drum-and-bass-inspired beat into a thrumming synthpop cut, and the hyperattenuated “Under My Control,” which turns the common resolution-time refrain “I should start working on myself again” into a pop confection underscored by wariness about what internal excavation might entail.
The less fevered songs, too, have an energy that makes them compelling. “Yellow,” which the twins have said is the album’s one selection that touches on their own relationship, has crushing drums and lyrics about long-festering wounds and remorse. “This Ain’t Going Well” is a pensive ballad accentuated with slide guitars that add heaviness to its regret-soaked chorus; the midtempo lament “Whatever That Was” looks back on a relationship that seemed bigger in the moment, with the refrain “I don’t think about you much at all” answered by a taunting guitar line that seems to say “come on, this song is a sign that you’re lying to yourself.” It’s a tenderly delivered self-criticism, though — the type that Tegan & Sara have honed over the years in their increasingly innovative, yet fundamentally openhearted pop.