Canadian pop duo Tegan and Sara released their ninth album “Hey, I’m Just Like You” on Friday, September 27. The album further bolsters a discography that extends over twenty years, during which they have established themselves as icons in both the LGBTQ and indie-pop communities.
The album was born out of a box of old tapes that identical twin sisters Tegan and Sara Quin found while writing their new memoir High School. In it were a collection of songs they wrote in the mid-1990s. They started to make slight tweaks to the songs and began re-recording them. Before long, the album had taken shape, and the project became the band’s first to be produced, performed, engineered, mixed, and mastered by a team of all women.
Sonically, they provided exactly what someone would expect from a Tegan and Sara album in 2019, with perhaps a slight tendency to dip into more modern and trendy production techniques. The album opens with “Hold My Breath Until I Die,” a dreamy bit of synthpop with an anthemic chorus that features the type of vocal countermelodies that have become a staple of the duo’s sound over the years. From the first note, we’re introduced to a chiming, chorusy guitar in the background that, combined with a plucky synthesizer and some ultra-tight percussion, would feel familiar and welcome to fans of neo-80s pop.
The bridge breaks down into a really cool half-time feel, which only loses its luster because the next two songs follow the same trend. The first of those, title track “Hey, I’m Just Like You,” jumps back and forth between a spacey, more ambient and echoey verse with a bright, almost-glitzy chorus section. This became the first song in Tegan and Sara’s discography to earn an explicit label when it was released as the album’s second single. It’s perfectly fine, but doesn’t stand out.
The third track on this album, “I’ll Be Back Someday,” was the album’s lead single for reasons that make sense the first time you hear it: it’s a bit of garage-rock-meets-The-Cars that has a definite level of catchiness the rest of the album had yet to present to this point. Following that up is “Don’t Believe The Things They Tell You (They Lie),” which was actually written in 1996 and was one of the first songs the duo ever wrote. It builds nicely to its drop, which features some smooth R&B-influenced drum pads and grandiose guitars that pivot the song into a rock direction that felt refreshing to hear at this point in the album. This was a definite favorite.
At first, I thought the next track, “Hello, I’m Right Here,” would just serve as the album’s requisite generic piano ballad to offset the heavier song that came before it. However, some gorgeously-textured strings and an organic build that holds throughout the song quickly replaced my skepticism with complete attention. While I wish the ultimate payoff of that build felt more like a destination than a dropoff, the sheer beauty of this song was enough to make it a favorite.
“I Don’t Owe You Anything” comes next, and I’m surprised this hasn’t been a single yet. Its hook is easily one of the strongest and most forceful on the album. The vocal mixing is fantastic, and it captured my attention as soon as I heard it. From here, though, I feel like the album starts to run together a little bit. “Please Help Me” and “You Go Away And I Don’t Mind” both failed to stand out to me. “I Know I’m Not The Only One” falls into this category as well, although I really liked the background vocals that would come in on the verses and the massive snare that keeps the song pumping. “We Don’t Have Fun When We’re Together Anymore” is, ironically, a fun dance pop song that doesn’t feel particularly new or innovative, but is still a solid contribution.
Among the songs on the back half of this album, “Keep Them Close ‘Cause They Will F**k You Too” stands out as a highlight while also earning the duo their second explicit label. I love the chorus of this song especially; it feels like a potential live-set highlight, which you can determine for yourself if you have a ticket to their sold-out show in Nashville on October 28th. The album’s closer, “All I Have To Give The World Is Me,” is a more-than-acceptable slow jam with exceptionally-modern production and magnificent harmonies that wrap a nice bow on this project.
Ultimately, this is an album that, lyrically, can tend to be a bit repetitive. It doesn’t have the depth or poeticism of an artist at their absolute creative peak, but it exchanges those qualities for an angst, youthfulness, and bluntness characteristic of someone in their adolescence. While Tegan and Sara’s chemistry is as strong as its ever been on this full-circle project, a lot of the songs kind of sound the same to me. I felt like their execution was good-to-great, but rarely did the substance of the songs give much beyond that.
If a 5/10 is an average score, and everything above a 5/10 is, therefore, varying degrees of above average, then calling this album a 6.5/10 doesn’t seem unfair. This is more of a collection of songs to go hand-in-hand with their new memoir than anything thought-provoking or career-defining. I thought there were a lot of nice qualities on this album that won’t win over any critics of the band, but will give their fans plenty of quality content to listen to.
You can stream the album here.
Written by Casey Fitzmaurice