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Review: Tanlines Could Use a Five-Hour Energy Shot on ‘Highlights’

SPIN Rating: 6 of 10
Release Date: May 19, 2015
Label: True Panther Sounds

Never say that margarita-wave duo Tanlines don’t know how to roll out a beachball of a record. In preparation for their second studio album, Highlights, percussionist Jesse Cohen and guitarist/vocalist Eric Emm relaunched their official band website as a Netflix parody, complete with parody movie posters; winking, on-point descriptions (“Our hero has been poisoned with an insatiable desire to drink from the fountain of eternal life…soon he’ll find that love is the only antidote”); and their sophomore release streaming from start to finish for “binge-listening” purposes — a brilliant marketing technique for which Tanlines deserve all the Webbys. It’s unfortunate, then, that the follow-up to 2012’s steel drum-backed beach party, Mixed Emotions, becomes droopy-eyed after, oh, track three.

Because what an entrance Highlights makes. Bouncing in on springy handclaps, easy finger-snaps, and dual drum rhythms, the soon-to-be ironic Brooklyn rave-staple “Pieces” may not win accolades for innovative songwriting (“I saw the pieces / I saw the sun going down / Let’s meet up at the beginning” — snore), but it is still a tremendously pleasing opener that tambourine-clinks its way right into your gut.

Even more irresistible is the glimmering single “Slipping Away,” which, with its “Dancing in the Dark”-esque chug and deedling guitar melodies, it’ll have you doing the “Love Shack” all the way out to the Culture Club. There’s no catching your breath in the synth- and sweat-slicked “Palace,” either, but the house lights do come up when the substantially more turned-down “Two Thousand Miles” switches on. The droning, piano-accompanied track might mean to come off as an excuse to engage in some groin-brushing slow dance, but after the serotonin-surge of “Slipping Away,” etc., Tanlines sound more like they’ve just dissolved a quaalude in your Red Bull. Meanwhile, “Invisible Ways” comes on like a flattened rendition of the Cranberries’ “Dreams,” rather than, say, Genesis’ lustfully ecstatic classic that made “touch” into a two-syllable word.

When you remember what unfettered sonic euphoria Emm and Cohen are capable of crafting between them, the latter half of Emm and Cohen’s second full-length is, simply, a vacuous letdown. Mixed Emotions was a neon-colored grab bag of steamy floor anthems, each one pulsating with Afropop rhythms, steel drum bing-bongs, and a carefree, on-holiday air. Highlights finds the former remix project paring down to less imaginative drum/guitar basics, sounding like a 5 a.m., post-Tiki party K-hole, or sex with a Cabana boy you thought for sure would blow your mind — and then just laid there like a starfish.