Sainthood was the album that bridged Tegan and Sara’s past incarnation with their future selves.
2009 was one of the worst years of my life.
It was a year of deep loss and massive upheaval. I was in Grade 12, and I had to make a decision about my future. University tours, rejection and acceptance letters, trips to Ikea, and my friends planning prom dominated most of the first half of my 2009. By September, I watched my friends move away to university while I went off to school in the same city that I grew up in because I was too afraid to go anywhere else. I am not good at handling change, and this drastic reshaping of my world was debilitating.
That Fall, Tegan and Sara released their sixth album Sainthood, an album that was and remains an oddball in their discography. For their 2007 record, The Con, Tegan and Sara teamed up with an all-star cast of producers and contributors, including Chris Walla and Jason McGerr of Death Cab For Cutie, guitarist Kaki King, and AFI’s Hunter Burgan and their pop-rock sound became richer and darker. For Sainthood, Tegan and Sara once again collaborated with Walla and co-wrote a few songs with Burgan. They also reunited with Howard Redekopp who produced their breakthrough 2004 record So Jealous.
Sainthood, as a result, is a collision of sonic worlds. It bridges Tegan and Sara’s early folk, punk, and pop-rock-flavoured records and the slick synth-pop that fills their most recent releases. It’s a bridge between a familiar past and a hazy future. From the album’s outset, this meeting of sounds is evident as a coarse pairing of jagged guitar and rounded synth notes slice through opener “Arrow.” Both the standout single “Hell” and “Northshore” are straightforward pop-punk tunes that feature Tegan flying through lyrics just like she did on This Business of Art (2000) deep-cut “Superstar.” In contrast, on “Alligator,” Sara crafts a catchy and bright synth-pop hit unlike any other Tegan and Sara song up to that time.
Although Sainthood never settles on a singular sonic tone, the album is tied together lyrically by the theme of romantic devotion. Vivid images of backs arching, empty beds, and an ocean’s worth of salty tears occupy Sainthood. While I was trying to cling to my past, Tegan and Sara realized that they needed to let go of theirs: “I know it turns you off when I get talking like a teen,” Sara sings on “On Directing”; “You have a tendency to rush back into your past,” she sings about herself on “Red Belt.”
After the release of Sainthood, which was shortlisted for the 2010 Polaris Music Prize, Tegan and Sara took stock of their careers. They had been making music professionally for a decade, but they wanted more success. So they made a calculated plan about how to do that and pivoted their sound to radio-friendly pop. Tegan and Sara knew their future was theirs to shape, and so they did.
When I listened to Sainthood in my dorm room during my first few months at university, shaking with uncertainty, and Tegan sang these words from the anthemic album closer, “Someday,” I always felt hopeful: