by Tim Birkbeck
Since deciding to write music together identical twins Tegan and Sara Quinn have received critical acclaim. Since their 1999 debut, Under Feet Like Ours, the Canadian indie-pop duo have since released a further seven studio records, with each record showing the sisters capacity to make beautiful, upbeat tunes, combined with darker, more emotional edge.
However, it was 2007’s release, The Con, which really brought the pair to the forefront of the music industry. Now, 10 years on from the duo’s seminal release, friends and other artists have joined together to pay homage to the record with a special new release.
Featuring artists such as Ryan Adams, City and Colour, Pvris and CHVRCHES all contributing their own rendition of one of the tracks from the original album, The Con X: Covers is testament to how much of a wide appeal Tegan and Sara have.
As well as being a ‘thank you’, this record is also a love letter to the duo for what they have done for music. It’s a tribute which has produced (mostly) amazing results…
‘I Was Married’ – Ruth. B
The Canadian singer / song writer produces one of the closest like for like covers on the record. She combats the double vocal patterns with backing vocals. Ruth B. strips the song down to its simplest elements, rather than using an electronic sound which is a trade mark of the Quinn twins. The singer relies on her voice and the sounds of the piano. This rendition does give a more haunting element to the song, compared to the original, but if you take it on face value as a cover, its pretty spot on note-for-note.
‘Relief Next To Me’ – MUNA
Unlike Ruth.B’s cover, MUNA really have put their own spin of ‘Relief Next To Me’. This version of the track has almost become a dance song. Heavy on the electronic synth and laced with guitar throughout. Again the original song had a somewhat sombre vibe to it, and the electro-pop trio have really lifted the spirit of the song right from the start. If you were unaware that this was a Tegan and Sara song you could be mistaken for thinking this track was a song which had just been released as a club song. The pace of MUNA’s version is fast and it bursts through the song leaving a bit of a punch after the more classical start we saw in ‘I Was Married.’
‘The Con’ – Shura
English singer/songwriter, Shura really took a risk with her version of ‘The Con’; maybe the most iconic track on the album, as well as being the title. Using atmospheric effects, reverb on her voice and slowing the pace right down, the song is almost unrecognisable. The whole point covering a song is to put your own spin on an already established song and Shura has been very bold in doing so. Some purists of the Quinn twins music may absolutely hate this version of ‘The Con’, but there is something which is quite romantic about it.
‘Knife Going In’ – Mykki Blanco
American rapper, Mykki Blanco may be a name that some people may be unfamiliar with, but his style of music lends itself to the dark Tegan and Sara aesthetic. If the twins were to have an evil brother it would be Blanco. His haunting voice singing the lyrics of ‘Knife Going In’ has a surreal beauty to it. A common thread in all these covers is the change of pace many of the artists involved use to suit their sound. However, slowing down what is an up tempo song gives it a whole new dynamic. Right from the off the acoustic guitar sound is replaced by some very eerie sounds, as if Blanco is channelling his inner Quinn and amplifying their darker side. The result is something quite amazing.
‘Are You Ten Years Ago’ – Pvris
Lynn Gunn’s voice lends itself to this style of music perfectly and the atmospheric touch added to the melody really adds a new level to the music. One thing that I wasn’t a fan of in the original of this song was the repetitive nature of the chorus. How ever with Pvris, they know how and when to raise the tempo of the song and that really works in their favour here, creating a freshness around the song. One thing that did disappoint me is that the band didn’t go full rock and roll with the song, but I guess they wanted to stay true to the Quinn sisters version rather than just writing a Pvris song.
‘Back in Your Head’ – Ryan Adams
If having Mykki Blanco was like having the sisters evil brother on the record, then Ryan Adams is the cool rock and roll brother than you want to hang out with all the time. The singer/songwriter has basically taken the original song and said “hey you know what would make this sound awesome? A distorted electric guitar.” And hewasn’t wrong.
For what is already quite an upbeat song, Adams just adds another layer to the song and when you listen to his version a few times, it pictures up an image of him sharing the stage with the twins playing this song making it the perfect combination of the two.
‘Hop A Plane’ – City and Colour
As soon as you see the name City and Colour next to something, you kinda know exactly what it is going to be. Dallas Green has made a career of producing beautifully sombre songs. And this rendition of ‘Hop A Plane’ is no different. The sounds of his acoustic guitar and the piano really transform this song into something completely different. In listening to the two tracks side-by-side it is quite interesting that even though the lyrical content is the same, the pace of the production of the song can almost give it completely new meaning. I think it is credit to the Quinn sisters in that their music is so layered it can have different stories within it, but also to Green for given the song a completely different perspective.
‘Soil, Soil’ – Kelly Lee Owens
Much like her English counterpart Shura, Kelly Lee Owens takes a very different approach to her track. Unfortunately, however, it’s a risk which doesn’t quite pay off. The minimalist touch can work in some circumstances, but here it just doesn’t cut the mustard. The repetitive drone and looping of the vocals just leaves me a little underwhelmed. Which is a shame, as Owens’ music is usually enjoyable, but when compared to the original, there is a distinct lack of fun.
‘Burn Your Life Down’ – Bleachers
Now this is what a homage should sound like. Bleachers turn ‘Burn Your Life Down’ into a love letter to the twins, it screams of the sadness that the lyrics portray. =Tegan and Sara have a knack of finding an upbeat spin on what can be the sombre subjects they are singing about, but for Jack Antonoff you can really hear the heartache in his voice. It leaves you questioning which twin hurt this man. I know I have used this word a lot, but there is a true beauty to Bleachers version of ‘Burn Your Life Down’. The slow build to what you think will be the crescendo of the song, only for the vocal to pull you back to reality.
‘Nineteen’ – Hayley Williams
Throughout this piece I have spoke about artists maybe being extended members of the Quinn family. Well Paramore’s Hayley Williams fits that category. When listening to her version of ‘Nineteen’ there isn’t much of a difference. Yes, the musical composition is different, but the tone and pitch of Williams’ means that if you were to merge the two tracks together it would be very hard to distinguish between theme. For Williams, a woman who has made a career out of pop music, it is really unique to hear this depth and range to her voice and it is something which comes as a hidden gem on this record.
‘Floorplan’ – Sara Bareilles
It seems that the easiest thing to do on covering a Tegan and Sara song is to really highlight the dark tone of some of the lyrics by slowing down their trademark upbeat sounds. And yes I may have praised several artists for this exact thing in earlier tracks. That being said, when it comes to Bareillies, it just doesn’t seem to click. That’s not to take away from how amazing her voice is, but there is just something lacking. Maybe it is there is no real change in the melody from the moment she starts, or that other people previously had done it better, unfortunately it is one of the weaker tracks on the anniversary album.
‘Like O, Like H’ – Shamir
Shamir has a very unique voice, and the song ‘Like O, Like H’ is one of Tegan and Sara’s more offbeat tracks, so this was a marriage made in heaven. The high pitch vocal of the singer, accompanied by an acoustic guitar and a humming of a synth in the background really works. The chorus is the perfect blend of these three elements, and with this being a big catch of the original Shamir nails it in his own style. Maybe one of the most underrated songs on the original album could be an unlikely hero of this covers album.
‘Dark Come Soon’ – Trashique (Grimes x Hana)
Ever wondered what Tegan and Sara would sound like doing dream-pop? Well wonder no more as Trashique transform the song, ‘Dark Come Soon’, into an electronic dream. What makes this track stand out from the plethora of different artists which feature on this record is the mix of two female voices. With the Quinn twins known for their harmonies and melodies, it is interesting to hear how two other women interpret this mix and the results are something quite magical.
‘Call it Off’ – CHVRCHES
For some reason it seems quite fitting for CHVRCHES to be the last band you hear on this record. They set the tone of their version of ‘Call it Off’ perfectly, the build with the riff into the first line of lyrics is done effortlessly. Like Bleachers, this is CHVRCHES saying thank you to Tegan and Sara for defining a genre 10 years again and paving the way for bands like them. The music is mesmerising and even though you can hear the Quinn sisters in the music – it is their song after all – there is that familiar hum of distortion which comes with CHVRCHES. It builds in the chorus and comes to a nice conclusion.
The Con X: Covers is out now.