The Con was released in the summer between me graduating high school and heading off to college. I don’t remember exactly how I heard about, probably some aggregate blog, which were big at the time, but I almost certainly first listened to it on a late night sitting at my family’s home computer, since I didn’t yet have my own. At the time, I had no idea how important this album would be to me.
I feel safe in saying that without The Con, I wouldn’t have started this blog, wouldn’t have become the avid music fan I am now, actively looking to support and listen to queer artists. It changed the way I listen to music, and still to this day, I hear new layers, new sounds, little instrumental parts I never noticed whenever I listen to its songs. Because of The Con I became an active listener, always trying to figure out the alchemy of how all the tracks of a song fit together; it makes it near impossible for me to get anything done while listening to music, and probably makes me a bit insufferable to my friends who have to deal with me rambling on and on about songs they don’t care about.
I truly believe The Con is one of the best albums of the 2000’s, full stop. It is so lovingly crafted and immaculately produced, the songs all encompassing, and swirling around you as a listener. And I think that’s how it ruined me as a passive consumer of music, I just don’t understand how you can listen to any of these songs and not want to immerse yourself in them completely. I’ve written about The Con in the past, so I don’t want to repeat myself too much, but while Tegan and Sara had always been smart, dedicated writers and performers, this album took them to an incomprehensible level. I was surprised when Heartthrob came out and it was so unabashedly poppy, but the more that I listen to The Con since it and Love You To Death have come out, I shouldn’t have been. Tegan and Sara are genius pop song writers, they crafted hook after hook on this album, and knew how to get exactly what they wanted out of their collaborators. Chris Walla managed to balance all of those elements so the record is full of sound, but it isn’t busy. It uses everything but the kitchen sink, but it isn’t what I would call a kitchen sink record. Every instrument, every sound has a purpose. I wrote in my review of it (lol over five years after it was released) that this album should not be as easy to listen to as it. It is dense, and the songs are dark. Dark in a way that I don’t think Tegan and Sara got to before or since. And it’s not the ironic study of contrasts that some acts do, with dark lyrics contrasting poppy instrumentals. The lyrics and the music are, for the most part, heavy (there are great exceptions for the bouncy piano of “Back In Your Head” and the pop-punk gem “Hop A Plane”), brooding and threatening in a lot of ways.
I picked “Are You Ten Years Ago” to go with this post because it is hands down my favorite song on The Con, and I think the one that is most under appreciated. I don’t know if I’ve ever really seen much writing about it, and I don’t know why. It perfectly encapsulates everything I said above. This song is claustrophobic. They lyrics fold in on themselves, slightly changing their phrasing, but repeating the same patterns. The music does the same; the drums in particular are such a specific kind of perfect and genius that I don’t even know if I can put it in words. Much like the lyrics, the drumbeat repeats the same pattern, but each pass through plays a different combination of programmed drum machine and Jason McGerr’s live kit, and it slowly builds, so there is this sense of something about to break, but it’s unpredictable, and in the end it never does break. The song is this ball of tension without any release, mirroring the tension of the uncertain relationship Tegan writes about. I think it’s the best song Tegan ever wrote (I think Sara’s is “Nightwatch” from Sainthood, but that’s another post for another day).
To get a bit more personal, I came out as gay in high school, one of a handful of openly queer kids. I was lucky in that I received very little grief from anyone in my life about it, but I still felt pretty isolated. While I was good friends with some other gay folks, we didn’t have a lot of common interests. I loved screamo and punk and weird TV shows (and still do), most of them loved musicals and theater and pop music (most of which I learned to appreciate later on, but I was, like many teens, obnoxious and contrary for no reason). And when I first listened to The Con, I just felt this immediate, visceral connection to the music, learning that Tegan and Sara were gay also made me feel this connection to other gay people that I didn’t feel like I had in my real life. And from this album I found other queer people and queer musicians, and eventually started this here sporadically updated blog, because I was just so excited to find queer people making cool, amazing, queer art. And while I’m no longer a gay woman (I’m queer man, life sometimes takes you places you don’t expect it to!), I still don’t think I’ll ever be able to be grateful enough for what The Con has given me.
Even if you’re not a huge Tegan and Sara fan, if you can spare 37 minutes, I think it’s worth taking the time today to listen to The Con, really listen to it, and appreciate the care and craftsmanship that went into making it. It launched their career into high gear for a reason, and without it, Tegan and Sara certainly wouldn’t be where they are today. This is the record that helped tons of kids come out, feel comfortable in their skin, and be a little less alone. It gave a bunch of us queer people a couple of weirdo Canadians to look up to, and that is reason enough to celebrate its ten year anniversary, but it’s a great bonus that it happens to be one of the best records of the past decade.
Festivals and How To Approach Them Like Less of a Dummy
Disclaimer ***Yes I know it’s a long comedy blog. I wrote it cause I have severe insomnia and I feel that I am not wrong. If you think I am wrong, I don’t care. Do not try to start some debate about this shit. Just my 2 cents and you can take it or leave it. I don’t claim to be an expert or hot shit in any way. I just see a lot of hemming and hawing about festivals from what I believe to be a false sense of reality. If you think I’m an idiot, just ignore it and keep being your awesome self.***
I dunno if a lotta comics feel they are being bullshitted by festivals because they have to pay to submit, or maybe because a lot of fests kinda vaguely hint that the industry is there to find you, the savior of comedy…i understand having a bad taste in yer mouth if those are the expectations. As a person who has done the majority of festivals out there at one time or another, maybe I can help to explain why they can be a great experience if you understand what they actually do for you. To do that, I feel it’s necessary to explain what they don’t do for you.
Mercedes’ career kicks into high gear with the original song “Shakin’ My Head,” performed by Amber Riley, Heather Morris, Kevin McHale, Darren Criss and guest star Kristin Schaal. Season Finale TUE May 13 at 8/7c