REVIEW: Tanlines – Mixed Emotions

Brooklyn duo Tanlines started out as a means for Jesse Cohen and Eric Emm to remix tracks by artists like Glasser and Au Revoir Simone, but it wasn’t until their 2010 EP Settings that they garnered attention from all corners of the blogosphere. As soon as the band started creating original tracks filled with sun-drenched synth-pop and world music-influenced 80’s dancehall, the world started listening. While the two people that comprise the project have experience in very different backgrounds musically, they come together succinctly as Tanlines using their combined skills to make lovely little pop gems.

Two years since their first EP and a few singles later, Tanlines have released their long-in-the-making debut full-length, Mixed Emotions. The album channels inspiration from countless areas of music, but all the tracks seem to meld together to create something very much their own. African rhythm influences can be heard throughout the album, but more so on ’Yes Way’ than anywhere else. Dancehall obviously had a big impact on the recording process, with ‘Not The Same‘ having a distinct dance beat and pulsing synths backing it.

Taking cues from bands such as M83, Hot Chip and Friendly Fires, Tanlines manage to blur the line between indie band and dance act. There’s a certain juxtaposition between the up-beat melodies of the songs on the album and the rather sullen, melancholic lyrics of said tracks. Almost all the songs have the innate ability to make you dance, and given the right scenario you wouldn’t even notice the lyrics. But if you dig a little deeper, there’s a sense of loneliness and longing in the tracks. Take ‘Real Life’, for example. Emm sings “For a minute I was lost / I looked away / My destination was alone.” this sense of solitude exudes from all of the tracks, and if it weren’t for the way they delivered the music, this album would be a lot colder and darker than it makes out to be.

Opening track ‘Brothers‘ is covered with washed out synths that evoke sounds of waves crashing against the shore, and this is a trend that carries on throughout the album. It’s a slow-burning, fairly simple track that does well in introducing Tanlines‘ brand of pop. Sunlight permeates through all of the tracks and it’s hard to escape. If the conditions are right – scorching weather, nothing to worry about, et al – then Mixed Emotions is the perfect album to listen to. It’s lively enough to put on at any party and for late nights at the beach. But if things Ain’t so peachy, the unrelenting sunny disposition of the music might be a bit of a turn-off.

Throughout the album, Tanlines seize the opportunity to take a nostalgic trip back to the heyday of 80’s synth-pop. This has become such a common source of inspiration for contemporary artists that it should feel tired and well-tread by now, but Tanlines use these elements in just the right moderation to stop them feeling unwelcome. There are moments when this works to their full advantage, and other moments when it misses the mark. ‘Lost Somewhere‘, one of the weakest moments on the album, seems to get lost in the time period and just feels like a parody of the music it’s imitating, while ‘Rain Delay’ manages to mix up the 80’s vibes enough with their own style to make it worthwhile.

Lead single ‘All Of Me‘ is bound to gain cult status on dance floors across the globe, with its irresistibly bouncy beat and hook-laden chorus. Obvious inspirations are taken from various club anthems and it’s all put together in just the right way. They employ the tried-and-tested method of building up gradually, and by the time the chorus comes around, everything’s in full motion. It’s all rounded off with sincere and heartfelt lyricisms that guarantee that, come summer, this tune will be massive. It has all the ingredients needed.

The most disappointing thing about Mixed Emotions is the hit-and-miss feeling that taints this otherwise bold and delightful debut. Don’t get me wrong – it has more than its fair share of fantastic tracks that would stand well on their own, or as part of an EP; it’s just a shame that they couldn’t quite capture the same feeling on more of the tracks. ’Abby‘ feels largely flat and forgettable, especially following on from the trio of stellar opening tracks.

By the time the record reached the end, it seems ironic that the duo picked the album title that they did. Mixed Emotions aptly describes how I feel about the album. As a debut album, it’s a great attempt that shows bucket loads of potential from the duo, but it ends up feeling all a bit uneven in quality. Select tracks from the album are bound to be a highlight of more than a few playlists this Summer but it’s the moments in between that dampen the experience.

6/10

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