Release Date: March 20, 2012
Label: True Panther
“Tell everyone we haven’t changed / Tell everyone we’re not the same,” warbles Tanlines’ Eric Emm exactly halfway through Mixed Emotions, the band’s full-length debut. It’s one of many idle, find-yourself declarations, wrought with Breakfast Club romanticism, that constitute the duo’s reflective backbone. Have no fear, though. This isn’t another Brooklyn band’s anemic coming-of-age story, but rather a lighthearted, sunlit spotlight on the bittersweet transition between post-adolescence and actual just-trying-to-figure-it-all-out adulthood.
Despite the album’s playful, arrested development, Tanlines are already a highly evolved partnership. Jesse Cohen has played the keyboard-handling, drum-pounding, clap-machine counterpart to Emm’s far-away baritone for quite some time. Emm was a producer for Cohen’s dance-punk outfit Professor Murder back in 2006, shortly before the pair coined Tanlines to release a string of remixes for other global-beat-digging acts — El Guincho, Tough Alliance, Glasser — along with their first original single, 2008’s conga-driven “New Flowers.” Two years and an EP later, Professor Murder and Emm briefly merged into Restless People, whose track “Days of Our Lives” was essentially a re-energized take on progressive house act Underworld’s 2002 hit “Two Months Off.” In short, these guys have put in their time turning vintage dance music into something new.
Mixed Emotions falls right into place, then, indulging both musical and emotional nostalgia without falling victim to any particular trend. “Brothers” hosts rattling maracas, glowing rave synths, and syncopated hand-drums that build over the sound of crashing waves and a moan of “I’m just the same as I’ve ever been / But I’m the only one that doesn’t notice it.” Dance purists might cringe at the idea of two lyrically introspective Twitter enthusiasts making Balearic-infected house music (most cringe at the idea of Balearic house at all), but Tanlines’ pop-leaning reconfigurations of the sound make just as much sense as when the Woodentops’ “Why Why Why” and Electra’s “Jibra” were topping the Ibizan playlists of Pete Tong and Paul Oakenfold. The 11 tracks here deliver washed-out, downtempo dance music, creating a place where rock and house can meet under a beachside umbrella of pan-African percussion and laid-back Catalan listlessness.
That’s not to say these guys are the first to do any of this. The tropically inclined duo walk a path cut by Cut Copy and Yeasayer, where the echo of steel-drum synth sounds turn into mainstream-aspiring gold when paired with catchy, warm-weather hooks. “Real Life,” the album’s first single and clear standout, beautifully bridges bouncing campfire bongos and a loopy keyboard melody with yet another lament of uncertainty — undoubtedly an indie anthem for the coming summer. Like True Panther labelmates Lemonade and Delorean, or Acephale’s Swedish dream-pop outfit Korallreven, the ’80s-scavenging of Tanlines covers a wide range of the era’s pop glory. The synth-clap propulsion of “Rain Delay” mirrors the Cure’s or Tears for Fears’ happier moments, and “Green Grass” sounds remarkably like the pair’s own personal version of “Dancing in the Dark.”
So, like any number of John Hughes heroes and heroines, the duo are still trying to figure it all out. In the meantime, we’re at least left with a record of feel-good, high-fiving sing-a-longs. And should you doubt Tanlines’ melancholy cheeriness, open a physical copy of their CD for affirmation. The album itself is imprinted with a “winky-sad” emoticon — ;( — because there’s no point in searching for self-awareness if you can’t have some fun along the way.