by Emma Turney
[three_fourth]Tegan and Sara’s 2007 album The Con was and continues to be every emo kid’s pop punk soundtrack to life. The album examines the mental dislocation of someone who is slowly falling apart from the aching pain of loss. In 2007, The Con was far ahead of its time, before people were ready to take two lesbian pop punk artists seriously. At the time critics slammed the album for failing to recognize the artists’ queerness in the tracks, as if queer artists can only sing about their oppression. Pitchfork’s review of the album was widely misogynistic with comments like “the edgiest thing about the sisters Quin continues to be their haircuts” and “Tegan and Sara should no longer be mistaken for tampon rock.” In 2017, it’s hard to imagine a respected site like Pitchfork ever referencing women’s music as “tampon rock.” That’s why it’s time for The Con to receive the recognition it deserves.
The Quin sisters are back just one year after their latest LP Love You To Death to honor the 10th anniversary of The Con with a complete cover version of the album, The Con X: Covers. On October 20th the sisters released the album, featuring 14 artists to give their own spin on each song. Not to mention every artist featured is either queer or an ally, which makes sense considering the proceeds from the album are going to the Tegan and Sara Foundation that benefits LGBTQ women. Some of these artists chose to take their song in a completely different direction than the original, while others played it safe (arguably too safe) and stuck to what makes the songs great.
The album opens with Vine star Ruth B’s version of “I Was Married.” The song examines Sara’s internal struggle over why people were afraid to accept her marriage to another woman. Ruth B highlights the pop element of the song, reminiscent of where Tegan and Sara have decided to take their sound in recent years. The beginning of the album continues strong with “Relief Next to Me” covered by MUNA. As one of the stand out tracks on the album, MUNA brings an up-tempo, electronic sound to one of the most depressing songs on the original album. MUNA’s choice is interesting over lyrics that examine someone collapsing mentally: ‘I can’t untangle/ what I feel and what would matter most.’ It’s certainly an exciting take on the song that doesn’t stray too far from what Tegan and Sara fans love about the original. Shura’s cover of “The Con” continues the electronic feel with an over-produced, boring vocal that clouds the meaning of the song all together.
Two of the darkest tracks on the album follow soon after. Mykki Blanco, a rapper and poet takes Sara’s insanely dark “Knife Going In” and throws it over the edge. Blanco speaks every word on the track with a haunting vocal distortion. For a Tegan and Sara fan, this went a little too far from the original for me, but I can still appreciate this artistic choice. The next song continues this melancholy sound with PVRIS version of the eccentric “Are You Ten Years Ago.” PVRIS slows down the original version to focus on the band’s signature dark, looming production. The song focuses on someone trying to find control of themselves in a confusing relationship. PVRIS lead singer, Lynn Gunn’s vocals are brutally emotional, bringing out the turmoil the lyrics portray. The breathiness under the lyrics “this life is like a sentence/ a constant game of falling short” is desperate and defeated. Gunn’s vocals go places that Tegan and Sara realistically couldn’t take this song.
Ryan Adams’ cover of the brilliant lead single, “Back in Your Head” goes full punk. It’s a fun listen, but doesn’t really bring anything especially different to the beloved Tegan and Sara classic. Maybe that was intentional considering so many fans have a strong attachment to the original track. Although it should be noted that Cyndi Lauper’s exhilarating version of the song as one of the bonus tracks is a far better choice over Adams’. The following two tracks covered by City and Colour and Kelly Lee Owens are average at best and left me with no solid opinion either way.
Then we arrive at Bleachers’ version of “Burn Your Life Down.” When I heard that Jack Antonoff was chosen for this song, it seemed like a perfect fit. The original track is up-tempo and seemingly exuberant, while lyrically it examines someone trying to pull their life back together after the loss of a loved one. Antonoff starts off much slower and darker with a stripped down piano version. I was constantly waiting for the buildup that is found in the original but instead, it continued to mellow out. It seemed to just disappear into thin air, leaving me with no concrete feeling about what I had just listened to. The best part of the original “Burn Your Life Down” is the half screaming end where you physically feel the pain in their voices. But Antonoff chose to slightly whisper these lines instead. It took me a couple of listens to get on board with this decision, but I do see the originality in expressing pain in this way instead.
Possibly the biggest star to be featured on this cover album comes next as Hayley Williams from Paramore took on “Nineteen.” “Nineteen” is regarded as one of the most beautifully written songs by Tegan and Sara. Williams chose to completely strip it down to feature the lyrics. It’s intensely painful to listen to her express the loss of young love. But in the end I was disappointed with the lack of drums which the original version of the song so powerful and unique. Sara Bareilles arrives next with a simply boring cover of “Floorplan,” which just seems like a bridge to arrive at the brilliance of Shamir. “Like O, Like H” covered by singer-songwriter Shamir, who has lyrics to this song tattooed on himself, is compellingly dreamlike. I’m tempted to say that I prefer this version to the original. Shamir’s androgynous voice is one of the most interesting voices I’ve heard in years. This dreamlike sequence continues with GRIMES and HANA’s (under stage name Trashnique) breathy cover of “Dark Come Soon.”
Finally, The Con: X Covers ends with CHVRCHES genius version of “Call It Off.” Lyrically the song describes someone who has come to the realization that their relationship is doomed and is begging for the other person to end it. The Quin sisters’ version makes the singer seem complacent. But CHVRCHES’ synthpop style changes the entire mood to depressed and distressed. The slowed down vocals and addition of echoes on the chorus make you feel like you’re slowly drifting off on a cloud. When lead singer Lauren Mayberry sings ‘maybe I would’ve been something you’d be good at,’ I found a whole new desperation in the words from the aching in her voice.
All in all, The Con: X Covers’ highs are really high, and its lows are pretty low. If you’ve listened The Con to death, this new take on the album is fun and interesting. But after listening to the covers all the way through, the first thing I wanted to do was go back and listen to the original because let’s be honest: what makes The Con so iconic, is Tegan and Sara themselves.
PVRIS – “Are You Ten Years Ago”
MUNA – “Relief Next to Me”
CHVRCHES – “Call It Off”