Off the Beat and Path: Tegan and Sara, "So Jealous"

By Rob O’Donnell


Other critics have dismissed Tegan and Sara’s album “So Jealous” as too commercialized and self-conscious for folk-rock, or even indie rock. Luckily, I’m not one of those critics, and I have no idea what they’re talking about. This album is incredibly raw and emotional with a hard anti-commercial bite to it. Compared to their previous albums, it is much more rock-oriented, but not in a bad way. In fact, it’s incredibly refreshing.

This is the problem that almost every folk musician will eventually run into: as soon as the band changes its sound, it is accused of selling out even if the new material is just as anti-commercial as the previous songs. It’s the Bob Dylan Curse. As open-minded as they say they are, folkies apparently don’t appreciate too much change.

For me, it is the vocals that keep “So Jealous” from being commercial or pop music. Both sisters have beautiful voices on other albums, but on this album they mixed them with effects to make their sound more grunge-like. For this album, though, Sara Quin has a very unusual, somewhat nasally voice and when mixed with reverb it sounds as punk rock as Tom Gabel. And that is what I don’t understand about the critics. Before I read them, I was fully prepared to say that this was almost a grunge album, albeit with synths. The White Stripes covered a song off the album, “Walking With a Ghost,” and that could be the final proof that this is not a commercial album. “Jack White” and “pop music” cannot be said in the same sentence. 

The music on “So Jealous,” as I said before, is more rock- and grunge-oriented than the group’s previous albums. The first two albums were pure folk acoustic music and the third was a blend of acoustic and folk-rock. The albums followed a steady progression, each one a bit harder and edgier than the last. So, the sound of this album is the next logical step. It feels very unpolished, and yet is even more beautiful because of that. Even the synths are aggressive for such a mellow instrument. As someone once said, a truly great artist is one that constantly stays in the “becoming” stage and is not content with simply “being.” Once you’re happy with where you are, you start to slip. And that is what makes Tegan and Sara so great; every album builds on the last one and improves on the previous mistakes.

This album is perfect when you’re just having one of those days where everything seems to go wrong, or you’re having relationship trouble, or you just have some general angst. It is the best of punk and grunge-pop with lyrics for those of us with ears too delicate for most other bands in the genre. If you’re a fan of Metric or Florence and the Machine, this album is absolutely essential.

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