Something you battle as a writer (and artist and human) is the passage of time. It’s constantly been a massive focal point in my life; something I can’t stop thinking about, wondering about, and mulling over. Where does the time go?
Ten years ago this year, Tegan and Sara Quin released an album that, little did they know, would shift the tectonic plates under a lot of people’s feet. The Con changed a lot of things. It inspired hundreds if not thousands of stories, explaining a hundred more. Even now, a fellow queer friend of mine and I joke about The Con being The Gay Girl Album. I guess, in a way, it is to us whatever Joan Armatrading’s True Affection was thirty years ago.
Let me say that again: ten years ago this year.
How did that happen?
Earlier this year, Tegan and Sara announced they would be releasing an album of covers by other artists, of songs from The Con. These songs would be by artists that knew the band, maybe even had their lives altered in the smallest or biggest of ways through it. Artists like CHVRCHES, Mykki Blanco and Shura all signed up and the press release announcing it sent exciting waves through the community.
For the most part, The Con X consists of covers by female and female-identified artists, with the odd male Tegan and Sara supporter along the way (see: Ryan Adams fabulous cover of Back in Your Head and Bleachers’ Burn Your Life Down) making it sort of a one of a kind album in that respect. Every cover on the album is different to the next and every oneof them is different to the original. It’s pretty fucking special. That’s why I’m gonna do a rundown of the artists and tracks rather than your conventional review. (Conventional, you might say…)
RUTH B – I WAS MARRIED
Canadian musician Ruth B started her career on the gone-too-soon platform, Vine, posting six-second clips of herself singing popular songs. The Internet’s pretty fab at helping talent get heard and pretty soon, she was recording her debut EP. Ruth B is just at the beginning of what’s gonna be a long, exhilarating career and her cover of I Was Married sings like a lullaby.
MUNA – RELIEF NEXT TO ME
While originally — and understandably — wanting to avoid being labelled being exclusively a, “Queer Band” it didn’t take the girls of MUNA long enough to realise that, actually, being out might be of extreme importance to some of the fans out there. Their version of Release Next to Me keeps the basic vocal melody but changes everything else up to fit their style and ten years on.
SHURA – THE CON
I heard of Shura a while ago via somebody who was a big Marika Hackman fan. Despite being half a decade older than her, I can’t help but wonder if we ever found ourselves at the same Manchester-based Tegan and Sara gigs. I mean, with The Con, anything is possible. Shura is a pretty cool artist and with The Con X, she takes The Con to a level that’s practically submerged in dozens of layers of sound.
MYKKI BLANCO – KNIFE GOING IN
Mykki Blanco’s Knife Going In is my favourite track on the record. The first time I’d heard it, I knew I’d never heard anything like it, and in the same vein to how I felt with St. Vincent’s latest release Masseduction, I felt like it was tomorrow summed up into a single name. If you haven’t heard of Mykki Blanco yet, you should probably go do that now. He’s amazing. I’ll be waiting over here.
PVRIS – ARE YOU TEN YEARS AGO
PVRIS takes on ironic-considering-the-decade-since-the Con (in the Alanis Morrisette ironic way) anthem Are You Ten Years Ago. There’s a specific sound that’s kind of summed up the last few years in music. Shura, PVRIS, and CHVRCHES all have it going for them, even if they are, as a whole, as bands, entirely different. It’s atmospheric without hitting Portishead tempo and electronic without reaching CSS.
RYAN ADAMS – BACK IN YOUR HEAD
Tegan and Sara toured with Ryan Adams back in the day, so it seems only right that he manages to bring a totally pop-punk cover of Back in Your Head to an album they were still a few years from making when they were on the road with each other. He also features Sara’s original vocals on the chorus. I mean, unless he’s just really good at doing her voice…
CITY AND COLOR – HOP A PLANE
Dallas Green is City and Color and City and Color was a huge thing for me around the time of The Con’s original release. Dallas and Tegan also played a cover of The First a while ago. And when I say a while ago, I mean it in the same way I’d mean, The Con was released a while ago. His Hop a Plane takes the manic cravings from the original and takes it to that place only City and Color can: the place where broken hearts go.
KELLY LEE OWENS – SOIL, SOIL
City and Color’s Hop a Plane blends into Welsh-born electronic upcomer Kelly Lee Owens’ take on Soil, Soil — one of my favourites from the original Con record — and if it’s possible, I like this even more than Hop a Plane. It’s possible ‘cause it’s true, and both are good for different tastes and different ears, which The Con X is pretty fucking amazing for. I’ll definitely be listening more to Kelly in future. Once again, that’s a thanks delivered to Tegan and Sara.
BLEACHERS – BURN YOUR LIFE DOWN
Bleachers’ Jack Antonoff was another artist I’d not heard of until Tegan and Sara. It was years ago now and they were touring with — Jack’s old band — Steel Train and Holly Miranda. Either respectively or together, the deep dive into the absinthe bottle I had last night in the attempt to be a turn-of the-last-century French Bohemian “Real Writer” has eaten away my memories and all I have left is the ability to fully appreciate a great mix of artists covering a great mix of songs from a horrendously depressing, relatable, and fantastic record. Oh, and Jack’s laid back, piano-and-vocal Burn Your Life Down is a brilliant tribute.
HAYLEY WILLIAMS – NINETEEN
Tegan and Sara toured with Paramore a few years ago now. I was personally never into Paramore in that way where I wasn’t but an ex was and I could appreciate them for what they are (Hayley is a great songwriter and has a great voice) and but again, because of that ex, I never listened to them much myself because, as the contents of The Con taught us so damn well, that kind of thing sucks. Hayley recently made a video professing how much she identified with Nineteen and that shows well in her cover.
SARA BAREILLES – FLOORPLAN
There’s a sort of nice callback to the EP Ingrid Michaelson released earlier this year, Alter Egos, in the inclusion of Sara Bareilles on both Ingrid’s and Tegan and Sara’s, and Tegan and Sara on Ingrid’s as well. Really, all we need now is Ingrid and Sara to do a duet of Floorplan live because sometimes, it’s not a bad thing to shoot for the moon. Sometimes you’ve got a lasso. Sara’s version of Floorplan is Jimmy Stewart.
SHAMIR – LIKE O, LIKE H
The impeccably talented Shamir is one of those artists who, if there are more kids like him out there in the world — and I’d say there is — there’s a certain amount of hope for the future. Shamir identifies neither as straight or gay or female or male. Shamir identifies as queer, which makes his appearance on an album full, for the most part, of queer artists or queer allied artists, the perfect fit towards the end. Like O, Like H is an incredibly challenging song to change around and this cover managed to do just that without the aid of anything more than a voice, some harmonies, and some music. Definitely hits you in the gut.
TRASHIQUE – DARK COME SOON
Trashique is a combination of indie fave Grimes and HANA, who now collaborate together on a regular basis. I’ve gotta give credit to anyone that includes ique at the end of their name, given my favourite screen name I ever had revolved around the words panique attaque. Grimes, like Shura and PVRIS before them, bring the 2017 sound to songs that were written in 2007, not really hiding the depths of sadness to the lyrics under pastel-goth aesthetics but unveiling them from below. This song isn’t particularly shaken up, but it also doesn’t need to be.
CHVRCHES – CALL IT OFF
One of the first tracks that released by Tegan and Sara, CHVRCHES cover of Call It Off takes what started out as a One Girl, One Acoustic Guitar track and turned it into one that could have been on one of their albums. It is at times both unrecognisable and fully so, which I’d argue is the sign of a bloody good cover and a fitting end to the non-bonus track part of the album.
Bonus tracks that consist of Vivek Shraya’s spellbinding, hauntingly beautiful rendition of the Sara-penned heartbreaker I Take All the Blame, Echo Park’s pop-punk band Bleached and Tegan-penned One Second, an unreleased demo of a song from The Con era. And, to top it all off by starting a sentence with and, meaning you know it’s gotta be either good or false advertising: CYNDI LAUPER with her own take on the hit Back in Your Head.
Now, I wonder what it’s like for Tegan and Sara — who, on one of their early bootlegs I was given, covered Cyndi’s version of Prince’s When You Were Mine — to have her covering one of their songs.
Probably even better than most of us feel about the album. Don’t forget to check out The Con X tour in a city near you. If you want your heart broken all over again, this time without having to do the hungover walk of shame back to a friend’s flat, this tour is gonna be everything you ever wanted and more.
Maybe in the heartbreak, the songs will help you not to feel alone like they did for me and all of the great artists on this record.
STAND OUT TRACKS: Mykki Blanco, Knife Going In; Vivek Shraya, I Take All the Blame; Kelly Lee Owens, Soil, Soil
BUY THE CON X, AVAILABLE NOW
Proceeds go to The Tegan and Sara Foundation: Fighting for economic justice, health and representation for LGBTQ girls & women.