Tanlines is the nom de plume for Eric Emm and Jesse Cohen, a duo fromBrooklyn who performed in different bands before their paths crossedat Emm’s studio in 2008. The pair started out undertaking casualproduction work, but the instant online popularity of their remixesprompted a steady evolution of their collaboration. Having released aclutch of increasingly well received dance singles on the TruePanther Sounds, Young Turks and Kitsuné labels, Tanlines is now a full timerecording concern in its own right.
Mixed Emotions – alternatively titled with the “winky sad” emoticon ;(- has effectively been in utero as a debut album for some time, andthe genesis of the band’s sound has been far from plain sailing. By2010, feeling their electronica star was firmly in the ascendancy,Cohen and Emm undertook a three-week European tour which proved to be aspectacular failure. Time spent sullenly slogging about to a universalshrugging of shoulders prompted a shift of emphasis to incorporate theenduring art of introspective songwriting, with R.E.M. andBruce Springsteen name-checked as prime, if unlikely,influences.
Hailing from Brooklyn also brings its own particular burden of course;there’s the inevitable task of having to consider Tanlines based uponwhere they’ve come from as opposed to where they’re heading. Labelledas prime hipster territory (for good or ill), Brooklyn also holds thedistinction of being a hotbed of artful, genre-fusing music courtesyof luminaries including TV On The Radio, MGMT and Dirty Projectors. Tanlines tick the box too, duly demonstratingthat they have a finger on the pulse of their borough as they attemptto meld chillwave, indietronica and dance, all wrapped aroundheartfelt songcraft.
With the bar set high in terms of both self-imposed demands andgeographical requirements, Mixed Emotions yields mixed results. Fewbands can pull off the feat that’s attempted though – of late, onlynear neighbours LCD Soundsystem have managed it, and thatthrough mainly paying generous deference to influences. Tanlines’ leadrelease and album opener Brothers sets a promising tone, demonstratingwhat they are able to do so well. A song essentially about secondchances and regret, it bobs in warm washes of synth, surfs of staticand a four-to-the-floor kick in a weaving amalgam that gains momentum.Similarly, Yes Way is a curious, pleasant ditty that pivots onhandclaps, xylophone and a drum machine furiously hammering out 16ths.When it works, matters are ideally weighted and cleverly judged,rather like that perfect plaid shirt / beard / horn rimmed glassescombo that’s beloved of Brooklynites.
And herein lies the problem. Mixed Emotions is deliberately a leanbeast – songs are short, intros pared down as matters barrel towardchoruses that sometimes don’t catch, vocals not given room to breathe;the confluence of influences brief. Such a calculated quality hampersemotional depth, highlighting a mutual exclusivity between music andlyric rather than the bittersweet reinforcement intended. After all,have you ever seen anyone crying while dancing? It neither feels likea solid songwriting outing nor, the joyous All Of Me apart, somethingyou’d lose it to on the dance floor. Rather than being idiosyncratic,matters can lack heft and resort to retrospective, gentle electro-popwhich, of course, is absolutely fine – the New Order apingGreen Grass could comfortably soundtrack a triumphant sportingmontage, for instance.
Despite mixed efficiency of execution, Mixed Emotions has a sound,interesting basis and should still be filed as a qualified success.It’s certainly a promising debut, just one hampered by a songwritingscope that strips it of its own vitality rather than informing it.Tanlines may benefit from throwing off the lyrical shackles further infuture, meaning results may be more sunkissed than sunburnt.