As the world crawled through months of pandemic closures, Sara Quin was hunkered down in isolation conducting musical experiments.
It had been ages since the Canadian singer-songwriter — half of twin sister pop duo Tegan and Sara — was afforded the luxury of time. Without looming record label deadlines for a new album, or a crush of tour dates on the calendar, she was free to simply have fun in the studio.
“We kind of just fooled around musically for a couple of years,” she recalled in a recent interview.
What came out of the play dates was “Crybaby,” the Calgary sisters’ 10th studio album, which returns them to their indie pop-rock roots with a refreshing twist of musical maturity.
The project, released Friday, captures the 42-year-old women in a period of transition as they write about fumbling into an adulthood that was postponed by their own success for years.
In that sense, being forced to hit pause offered a blessing. Sara became a mother with her partner, while Tegan adopted a dog around the same time she bought a house on the West Coast.
Both experiences pushed the sisters to consider the direction of their personal lives and careers after two whirlwind decades that saw them rise from indie-pop darlings to singing “Everything is Awesome!!!” at the Oscars.
“I realized I’ve been existing in a bit of a teenage musician, adolescent mindset,” Tegan said.
“The pandemic gave me a lot of time to think about these extremely intense adult decisions.”
Some of those reflections peek through on “Crybaby,” which tightly grips the duo’s youthful anxiety while also considering their future.
For the past five years, Tegan and Sara spent an extraordinary amount of time leaning into their past. They wrote the 2019 memoir “High School,” and recorded a full album of songs penned during their adolescence, all of which culminated in an adaptation of their book into a TV series that Canadians can watch on Prime Video starting Oct. 28.
Echoes of that period are apparent on “Crybaby” as they’re funnelled through quivering electronic beats, bass guitars and vocal samples.
The album’s sound was shaped by two songs recorded in the demo process, “I Can’t Grow Up” and “All I Wanted,” which the sisters say were clear standouts in their collection of rough drafts. They decided both were good enough to become the template sound for everything that followed.
“The rest went away,” Tegan said, “And we made the record based on them.”
Other songs on “Crybaby” tackle their shortcomings in relationships (“F*cking Up What Matters”), attempts at self-improvement (“Under My Control”) and being stuck in a personal rut (“Pretty Sh*tty Time”).
Grammy-winning producer John Congleton, who worked with alt-folk artists Sharon Van Etten and Angel Olsen, helped the sisters further distance themselves from the Top 40 sound they shaped with Greg Kurstin on their albums “Heartthrob” and “Love You to Death.”
Reflecting on that period of mainstream popularity, the sisters seem ready to move on, with Tegan accepting they helped “disrupt the pop world” at a time when few queer musicians were in the conversation.
“We’re not the kind of people that go: ‘Now we sustain that.’ We go: ‘Burn it down. Now what?'” she said.
“That’s unnerving for people around us, but what comes out of that are really great things.”
David Friend/The Canadian Press