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July 9th, 2003 Cori Taratoot | Music Stories
 

Between Indie Rock and a Hard Place

Lesbofolk? Hipster darlings? Tegan & Sara are trapped between irreconcilable worlds.

     
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Tegan and Sara

Tegan and Sara Quin can't buy a fair shake.

The smart power-pop tracks from the Canadian sisters' second record, If It Was You, want to be hits. They deserve to be hits. In a just and righteous world, they would be hits--objects of healthy buzz, decent sales and the love of a legion of fans.

You could argue that two out of three ain't bad. If It Was You is slowly, steadily selling. The mainstream press is all over it: Twins! Lesbians! Tattoos! It's like the lost Buffy episode.

But thanks to an identity that is evolving along with their sound, the sisters Quin still haven't shored up their audience. Fans looking to suckle the comfortable lesbian folk music of the duo's early days have been ripped off the nipple and handed an infectious caffeinated energy drink. Meanwhile, T & S seem both too girly and too short on T&A to succeed among If It Was You's natural indie-rocker constituency.

First, the lesbian dilemma.

Early Tegan and Sara songs were baby-dyke softballs: overwrought lyrics, acoustic guitars, more folk, less rock. Fans from a predictable demographic wrapped themselves in the twins' homo-personas. Comparisons to Ani DiFranco spread like monkeypox.

But the same audience that warmed to Tegan & Sara, the Early Years, might shout "Judas!" when confronted with the girls' amped second effort. At 21, the twins ditch limited Lilith fare for a full-frontal sonic attack. Boys, amplifiers, drums, the works. Out: rainbow flags and butch stylings. In: sassy haircuts, electric guitars and subdued sexuality.

So what about what used to be called alt-rock? Ryan Adams covers the Quins' "Not Tonight" in his live set. MTV cherry-picked the sisters for its alterna-programming. But check out any citadel of indie Guyville, like the influential online mag Pitchfork. There you will find...not much regarding the talented duo.

The lesson? If you're cute boys with one OK record and a post-punk-pop stage presence (Hot Hot Heat), you get Beck's manager and a record deal with Warner Bros. If you're cute straight chicks with matching T-shirts and below-average hard-rock tunes (the Donnas), you get Lollapalooza and Billboard action.

But if you're crafty 21-year-old songwriters who happen to be female, attractive and queer? There's no home for Tegan and Sara here, not on this isolated land mass known as Rock.

Maybe the boys aren't even listening. But something about Tegan and Sara doesn't fit the hipster playbook. Their sound is more earnest than smarmy, more introspective than sardonic.

The Quins sharpen their focus on the first-person narrative, on the sharp suck of a lover's neurosis ("I could see you 10 or 12 times a day/I think it's best we do it your therapist's way") or next-door obsession ("My window looks into your living room/I spend the afternoon on top of you"). The same vinyl junkies who salivated over Weezer, Fountains of Wayne's Utopia Parkway or the New Pornographers' Mass Romantic should be all over this. But by and large, they're missing out.

That's just as much a shame as the wariness from the duo's original all-girl fanbase. If anyone from either side actually listened to the music, something beautiful might happen to both.


Tegan & Sara, Jets Overhead

Aladdin Theater, 3017 SE Milwaukie Ave., 233-1994.
7 pm Wednesday, July 9. $12. All ages.

 
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