Mariam Shahsavarani's Posts


Mariam Shahsavarani's Photo I'm the KDHX journalism intern for spring 2013.

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Album review: Tegan and Sara make a sweet, smooth but still dark sound on ‘Heartthrob’

Tegan and Sara
“Heartthrob”
Warner Bros.

Writing charming and infectious pop is nothing new for Canadian sisters Tegan and Sara Quin, but seven albums later they’re still finding ways to change their sound.

“Heartthrob,” Tegan and Sara’s most recent album, gives us 10 upbeat, sugary tracks. This really isn’t anything new for the sisters — they’ve been writing songs filled with catchy refrains since they started, but while their earlier songs relied more heavily on guitars and still had some roughness around the edges, “Heartthrob” is punctuated by synths with smooth pop production.

The album opens up with the first single, “Closer.” A simple synth line and harmonized “All I want to get is a little bit closer / All I want to know is can you come a little closer” kicks things off before the song erupts; it almost feels like you should be bopping around a moon bounce. But, as with much of the album, the glossiness of the tracks belies some of the darkness in the lyrics. When the song ends with the same refrain with which it opened, there’s a bit of wistfulness to it.

The sisters have always been good at expressing realistic relationships and honest emotion, and that’s still the case here. These aren’t songs about the perfect romance, and even if they may sound saccharine at first, the lyrics aren’t sugarcoating anything, admitting on “I Was a Fool” “If you’re worried that I might have changed / Left behind all of my foolish ways / You best be looking for somebody else / Without a foolish heart.”

In recent years, Tegan and Sara have been enjoying broader success, and as a consequence, alienating some of the smaller communities that have supported them for years. On the song “Someday” from their 2009 album, “Sainthood,” there’s the refrain of “I don’t wanna know that you don’t want me” alternating with “I might be something someday.” Now, nobody can deny that they’ve become something, and with “I’m Not Your Hero,” they’ve captured the other side of that feeling: “It’s so hard to know I’m not what they want.”

Tegan and Sara’s latest album could be the soundtrack to a late-night dance party, but the songs still contain the same quality of lyrics and hooks that made their previous albums accessible. The only danger of the slicker sound is that it may get lost and blend in with the pop airwaves. Ultimately, Tegan and Sara have added another album to a catalogue that moves them further into the mainstream without compromising the things that got them to this point.

Concert review: American Aquarium (with Hymn River Suite and Blackwater ’64) rock the twang at Cicero’s, Thursday, February 7

facebook.com/americanaquarium

Maybe it was the whiskey I wasn’t drinking messing with my head, but American Aquarium sounded too big for a room the size of Cicero’s.

When frontman BJ Barham introduced the Raleigh, N.C. band before playing “Katherine Belle,” all I could think was that it felt stadium-size huge despite the room not being particularly open. They were every bit as tight as on recording, but with an added oomph from the air vibrating around me.

A few hours prior, Alton, Ill.’s trio Hymn River Suite had started things out — two acoustic guitars and three voices melding together for a set of twangy country songs and covers — poking fun at themselves as they vied for the attention of the people chatting by the bar. “Grace, Peace, and Whiskey” stood out in their set, as well as the “totally hipster, pop-country cover” of Little Big Town’s “Boondocks” in all its foot-stomping glory.

Things got louder when Blackwater ’64 took the stage with their take on twangy rock. Pleading attempts to get people to move closer to the stage were somewhat effective, but chatter provided the backbeat for almost every song of the evening. The din proved annoying during quieter, slower songs — when the drummer and bassist took a break, the thrum of voices near the bar almost overshadowed Ben Martsolf’s crooning during “Westbound.”

American Aquarium’s set started off loudly and seamlessly — the transition between “Ain’t Going to the Bar Tonight” and “Saturday Nights” was so smooth that the crowd didn’t even get a chance to applaud. That proved to be a turning point in the set, after which almost every song received its own introduction, which ranged from Barham explaining that he’s a “terrible waiter and worse bartender” before “Casualties” to a rant about his ex before “I Hope He Breaks Your Heart.”

“It’s only been 5 years. I’m not bitter,” he explained, before singing over a weeping pedal-steel guitar; the tenderness of the first half of the song belied his venom.

After explaining they weren’t going to do the whole encore thing, the rockers played the title track off their latest record, “Burn.Flicker.Die.” Ending with a polite, “Y’all have a safe night,” the five men left the stage to mingle with the crowd.

Concert review and set list: Free Energy (with Bo and the Locomotive) unleashes an old-school dance party on the Old Rock House, Thursday, January 24

facebook.com/FreeEnergy

The Old Rock House was glowing as Free Energy took the stage on Friday night. Really, truly glowing.

The crowd, decked out in glow bracelets and necklaces, patiently waited through locals Bo and the Locomotive‘s opening set, bobbing their heads to songs new and old alike. At one point lead singer Bo Bulawsky quipped that they were about to play another new song, “Not that you would know the difference or care” before launching into a song peppered with vibrant, happy notes from the synth pushing away any possible bitterness. The band finished its set with “On My Way,” the drummer and guitarist switching instruments.

But the majority of the crowd was there for Philadelphia-based rock ‘n’ roll outfit Free Energy, who recently self-released their second full-length record, “Love Sign.” Some in the crowd (and band) looked like they had walked off the set of some “Dazed and Confused” sequel. But considering the musicians’ sound, it wasn’t entirely unexpected. When they joked at one point that the next song was going to be a cover of “Freebird.” Had they actually played it, only the guitar solo would have sounded out of place in their set.

Free Energy’s sound is infectious. From the first notes of “Backscratcher” the crowd was on its feet and moving, and by the time vocalist Paul Sprangers shimmied and sang “I’m alive and the night is young,” it was clear the crowd was on the same page; the floor of the room quickly becoming a dance floor.

And with a constant theme of “tonight” and “dancing” in Free Energy’s songs, it was fitting that Sprangers enthusiastically noted that “It’s a Thursday night dance party in St. Louis. I feel it.”

The good feelings never left the room. Even when “Dream City” took a slower, more pensive turn, the mood was quickly brightened up with a peppy chanting of “na na na na” making it easy to forget that the recording contains a saxophone — it didn’t feel like anything was missing.

Following the loud, thumping of “Bang Pop” the band called for ’80s high-school dance lights and slowed things down for “Dance All Night.” The show ended with a two-song encore of “Young Hearts” and “Dark Trance,” the punch of the line “Will you ever have enough?” lingering in the air as the band thanked the audience and walked off stage.

Free Energy set list:

Backscratcher
Electric Fever
Free Energy
Dream City
Something in Common
Street Survivor
Hey Tonight
Bang Pop
Dance All Night
Girls Want Rock
Hope Child
Young Hearts
Dark Trance