Minus the tornado-y hail, it’s probably safe to say that spring has arrived in Ann Arbor. Time for the return of Wayfarers, frenzied joggers, Arb excursions and Tanlines.
True Panther Sounds
Tanlines, the electropop duo from Brooklyn, has arrived just in time with their debut LP Mixed Emotions. While the guys — instrumentalist Jesse Cohen and vocalist Eric Emm — released a compilation album and an EP in 2010, this marks their first LP. They’ve made plenty of remixes and some surprisingly popular singles, but Mixed Emotions serves as an examination of whether Tanlines can create an album that stands on its own.
Mixed Emotions is an album created while in motion: Emm and Cohen began it while on tour in Europe, continued in a Brooklyn studio, migrated to various apartments and ended up in Miami to seek the aid of production genius Jimmy Douglass. Oddly enough, Emm and Cohen, in an interview with electronic news publication The Daily, expressed dissatisfaction about the collaboration with Douglass. Apparently, their work with the four-time Grammy winner resulted in something that began sounding “pretty terrible” and “ended up somewhere in the middle.” Too often, the compromise is uncomfortably apparent in the album — it’s a sunny and danceable record, but as the boys admitted, quite average.
While in Miami, Emm and Cohen would go earn their tan lines every morning swimming in the ocean, then record for the rest of the day. This explains the beach-inspired sound found in the first track “Brothers,” which begins with wave noises and adds in some bongos and pulsating bass that begs to be blasted, resulting in what sounds like a rave on an island. But Mixed Emotions goes beyond techno — the album features more of the deep voice of Emm than Tanlines devotees may be used to. His throaty vocals could potentially give Tanlines an advantage over the babyish singing of similar African-inspired bands like Vampire Weekend, but unfortunately, the majority of Tanlines’ tracks have lackluster melodies that serve more as background music for tanning on the roof.
That’s not to say that all of Mixed Emotions is forgettable. “Brothers” is one exception, along with the addicting steel drums of tracks such as “Real Life.” “Green Grass” seems to be created for the sole purpose of frolicking through meadows on ecstasy, while the sound of “All of Me” evokes images of Mickey Mouse hugging kids on cruise ships. But the strength of this album comes from its ability to have a collected vivacity, simultaneously catchy and cool. The vocals of “Yes Way” shift from an alluring lowness to flirty high notes, combined with a simple, adorable xylophone solo. Mixed Emotions is obviously poppy, but its cheery charm overweighs the substance that could make this album something more than a collection of poolside tunes.
While profound messages may feel slightly out of place in an album like Mixed Emotions, it still calls for lyrics a little more original than “sky so blue” and “green grass” (in the song “Green Grass,” of course). For an album with the name of Mixed Emotions, most tracks sound as happy as a sundrenched beachgoer. Some songs, such as “Abby,” attempt to experiment with moodier emotions, but these tracks end up sounding forced and confused.
Perhaps Tanlines simply needs to be inspired by a bit more than what they’ve found exploring Europe, Brooklyn and Miami beaches in order to create a more genuine album. Emm and Cohen have proven their techno talents with an impressive array of remixes, but if they’re going to try to make any larger of a mark as musicians, maybe they should pull a Bon Iver and go brood pretentiously alone for a winter. While it’s tempting to include the band in the same category as groups like Vampire Weekend, ultimately, Tanlines pales in comparison.