Tanlines - Mixed Emotions

Jesse Cohen and Eric Emm, the two halves of the Brooklyn duo Tanlines, don’t come from studio-pop. Cohen first came to our attention as the leader of Professor Murder, a clattering and scrappy dance-punk band who figured out, like Liquid Liquid and Radio 4 before them, that postpunk sounds really good when it has a whole shit-ton of percussion; I seem to remember Cohen spending a lot of time blowing a whistle at their live shows. Emm, meanwhile, has roots that go even deeper into the underground; he was a member of the math-addled post-rock bands Don Caballero and Storm & Stress. Tanlines started when they got together to remix a Telepathe song, and they spent their early time together putting together hazy, vaguely tropical productions and editing them into fuzzed-out, non-sequitur YouTube clips. None of that would seem to prefigure a turn toward big, populist dance-pop grooves, the type of things that ad-licensers go apeshit for. But that’s exactly what they’ve given us with Mixed Emotions, their long-awaited debut: An album of big, gorgeous songs that seem destined to dissolve into the air and linger there like summertime water vapor.

Tanlines have spent something like four years working on putting this album together. They went to Miami and put in serious work with Jimmy Douglass, a pop-music veteran who’s worked for the past decade-plus as Timbaland’s recording engineer. In a recent profile in the Daily, Cohen admitted that they put the sort of work into the album that “a band in our position can’t really afford to do.” But all that effort and money is there in every minute of the album. They’ve written some big, generous, wistful pop songs — tracks that straddle the line between mainstream-indie and classicist pop the same way Phoenix’s Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix and Cut Copy’s Zonoscope did. And they’ve recorded these songs the way songs like these demand to be recorded — with immaculate, glimmering production that help every ripple and thump land just right.

All Of Me,” the single, is the best song here and also the one that best encapsulates that approach. It’s built from a lilting synth-plink riff, but it layers on warm, gloopy bass and rippling congas and disco kickdrums and guitars that absolutely sparkle. Emm’s voice is thoughtful and matter-of-fact, but it stretches out enough to get across big emotions without ever leaving its comfort zone. It’s just a beautifully put-together machine of a song — one that suggests that old New Order sunny memory-fog without actually sounding like a New Order ripoff. And that’s the same feeling I get from pretty much every song on the album. Opener “Brothers” is a stretched-out sigh and a statement of intent at the same time. “Yes Way” is the years-late payoff for that little period when indie-rock was dabbling with tropical sounds, the sort of excellent pop song that your El Guinchos and your Ruby Suns never quite pulled off. “Not The Same” is Cut Copy-style starry-eyed dance-rock. “Rain Delay” is fuzzed-out dream-pop that never lets the effects pedals get in the way of the melody.

Onstage at the Mess With Texas party in Austin on Saturday, Cohen and Emm came off a bit nervous, like they weren’t quite ready to play a gigantic warehouse space in the time-slot right before ASAP Rocky. A bunch of times, they stopped just short of apologizing for being there. It wasn’t warranted, since these songs, even performed uneasily, sounded amazing. With Mixed Emotions, Tanlines have done exactly what they set out to do: They’ve made an album that will sound absolutely stupendous when you’re driving during the daytime with your windows down all spring and summer. The songs are already there, which means the swagger will absolutely arrive.

Mixed Emotions is out today on True Panther. Stream it at NPR.

Other notable albums out this week:
• The Shins’ woozily gorgeous trad-indie comeback Port Of Morrow.
• Odd Future’s rambunctious return-to-form The O.F. Tape Vol. 2.
• Grizzly Bear member Daniel Rossen’s hushed, ornate solo EP Silent Hour/Golden Mile.
Beak & Claw, the debut from Sufjan Stevens, Serengeti, and Son Lux’s s / s / s project.
• The all-star Hunger Games soundtrack, which has Arcade Fire and the Decemberists alongside stuff like Taylor Swift.
• Lee Ranaldo’s laid-back avant-guitar solo effort Between The Time And The Tides.
• Mi Ami’s knotty but dance-informed Decade.
• Choir Of Young Believers’ Scandinavian orchestral-pop LP Rhine Gold.
• Mac DeMarco’s seasick garage-rock experiment Rock And Roll Night Club.

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Comments (16)
  1. I would like this a lot more if the vocal style were different. It’s a little, i dunno, whiney?

  2. that being said, i much prefer the track “brothers”

  3. This has been an epic week for music to say the least. The Shins new album is fantastic (It was worth the 5 year wait), and Daniel Rossen’s EP is hands down my favorite of the Grizzly Bear solo work.

  4. Personally, I was hoping it would be more like their earlier stuff (a la Real Life), but I still enjoy Mixed Emotions. Your comment about summertime driving music is spot on.

  5. This album’s pretty good but there’s no way it sounds like four years worth of work.

  6. I totally agree, I was at MWTX @ SXSW and they kept talking about how if they can win over one ASAP Rocky fan, it’ll be a good day, when every song was utterly powerful and very danceable. I like the humility though

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