Just as they set their sights the term “heartthrob” on its head in their pop shift in 2014, Tegan and Sara have now set their sights on the word “crybaby.” Following the stress, turmoil, and abrupt halt to touring and recording in the time since their last release in 2019, the twins have returned with their tenth studio album, a collection of songs that take a frank, emotionally charged look at what it means to navigate the frustration and pain of growing up and shedding your old identity.
Crybaby (★★★★☆) is the product of that “renewed sense of intensity” that the duo have begun to feel for their creative projects. Its release coincides with the general release of High School, their biographical TV series about growing up in suburban Calgary in the 1990s. It explores a moment in their lives and relationship when everything they knew was upended, allowing them to come into their own, it is probably no coincidence that they have found themselves in another such moment with this album.
“Fucking Up What Matters,” the first single to be released from the album and their first since signing to Mom+Pop records, voices the feeling of wondering what it would be like to just walk away from everything you thought you wanted.
That impulse to walk away from what you have certainly reflects their headspace going into creating this album, but this is not to say they have completely turned their backs on all the things that have made them such celebrated successes almost from the beginning.
One of their greatest strengths has always been the raw emotional honesty of their work, and Crybaby ratchets this up with maximalist production and an ethos that more closely resembles their indie rock days. They have not abandoned their pop turn, either, and they marry their gift for crafting defiant, stomp-and-shout indie rock anthems with their more recently-developed gift for turning a crisp, catchy pop hook.
In the album’s best moments, this approach creates incredible moments like the cathartic, shouted vocals of “I Can’t Grow Up” that open the album, and the beautifully tense, dreamy energy of “Yellow.” They give voice to little moments of powerful emotion that are more familiar than most people care to admit, like the panicked realization that you might be falling for someone new that can be heard in the chorus of “Sometimes I See Stars.”
The hazy, dreamy “Smoking Weed Alone” is a particular standout that seems purpose-built for, well, exactly that kind of introspective solitary moment. Also notable is the way the twins sing to each other on its chorus, something Sara has noted that they “haven’t really done before, in our career.” Having sung together and collaborated closely their entire careers, it might have been hard to imagine how Tegan and Sara could find ways to deepen their partnership, but this is exactly what they have done.
The burst of creative energy that Tegan and Sara bring to Crybaby sometimes feels like it is coming at the expense of a sense of cohesiveness, although to their credit, most of it works so well that the album does not suffer for it.
Tracks like the captivatingly hectic “Pretty Shitty Time” convey a powerful, urgent sense of intimacy with their restrained vocal harmonies. Those tracks sit comfortably alongside quieter, more intimate moments like the quietly distraught confessional “This Ain’t Going Well,” which have a subtler sense of intensity to them.
With Crybaby, Tegan and Sara have continued their streak of casually, expertly executing abrupt left turns, this time reaching back to their formative years to draw on near-universally intense experiences while somehow deepening their partnership as musicians even further.
Giving voice to the pain and frustration that accompany growing up at any age, the album is proof that even at the top of their game, the twins are still capable of reaching even more impressive heights.
Crybaby is available in physical and digital formats.
High School is now available to stream in the U.S. on Amazon Freevee and internationally on Amazon Prime Video.
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