Toward the end of their great new song “U-Turn,” Tegan and Sara lay out a series of instructions that, whenever I listen, I can’t help but imagine being presented in a numbered list. “Every time I think I hurt you,” one of the sisters sings, her voice climbing and then descending in pitch, “all I have to do is” …
- “Think through what I want”
- “List your virtues”
- “Apologize. I don’t deserve you.”
The chorus smashes in for step No. 4, which—Q.E.D.—also explains why the tune exists at all: “Now I wanna write a love song, even though you never asked me for one.”
Listening closely to Tegan and Sara, the twin musicians enjoying unprecedented popularity two decades into their career due to 2013’s irresistible Heartthrob, can offer the kind of satisfaction that comes from solving a logic puzzle. Listening less closely can offer the same satisfaction great pop music always does. They bring a scientist’s rigor and an editor’s clarity to the stereotypically mushy topic of love, as well as, lately, to the synth-pop template they’ve helped repopularize on radio. Their trick is conveying lots of information—melodic, rhythmic, and lyrical—while maintaining simplicity and elegance.
Hearththrob was about desire, a subtopic of love served spectacularly by Tegan and Sara’s craftwork. With tight grooves, clipped syllables, and two voices sometimes in counterpoint, songs like “Closer” and “How Come You Don’t Want Me” nailed the moment when yearning overwhelms the impulse to repress. Their new album, Love You to Death, continues the former indie-rock duo’s foray into mass-appeal new wave, but it’s darker, focused mostly on what it’s like to be inside a relationship facing hard times. Some of the songs address a difficult period of sisterly conflict in their past, a topic they’ve said has been off-limits for them till now. The chorus on “Faint of Heart” offers a suitable warning: “Real love is tough.”