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"Closer," the first single from Tegan and Sara's new album Heartthrob, pulses with an urgency that's propelled by the synthesizer keyboards of one of the album's producers, Greg Kurstin. The sisters' voices entwine to sing the catchy chorus with a soaring quality that would be airy and light were the words not so earthy and carnal. "Closer" is indeed a song about getting closer, emotionally and physically. It celebrates a one-on-one intimacy that extends to the way this duo is reaching out to what it hopes will be a larger audience.
As openly gay women who've never made their sexuality or their sexual politics the subject of their material, Tegan and Sara have always created romantic music about falling in love and living through relationships both good and bad. In the past, it was frequently possible to distinguish between the songs each wrote — Tegan's were often tempestuous and fulsome, Sara's more poppy. But the material on Heartthrob is very much a collaboration of sounds and sensibilities, and these women are united in expressing the joys and the agony — the often luxurious, languid agony — that anyone who has been in love can identify with.
I'm glad we live in a time when the idea of putting a glossy pop sheen on one's singer-songwriter pensées doesn't lead to accusations of "selling out." Don't let your ears slip-slide over the surface of these tunes, because this is music that is often loaded with a carefully articulated sense of doubt or hopelessness that Tegan and Sara suggest needs to be shaken off, through a triumph of the pop-music will.
If Tegan and Sara wanted to expand their audience with a pop album, they certainly seem to have succeeded. Initial sales have been larger than those of any previous Tegan and Sara album, and they're touring in larger arenas as an opening act for the Grammy-winning band fun.. But beyond commercial outreach, Heartthrob is the work of musicians interested in explaining, with lyrical precision arriving in billowing choruses, the small moments that make affairs of the heart both so specific and so universal. When you can convey both of those elements in a single song, you're really doing the good work of popular music.