It’s been extremely intriguing to watch the evolution of Eric Emm and Jesse Cohen’s Brooklyn based, indie dance project Tanlines since their first single “New Flowers” appeared from the music blogosphere ether in 2008. And while, almost immediately, there was discussion regarding the supposed dissonance in sound between Tanlines and Emm and Cohen’s former projects (math rock legends Don Caballero and jittery dance punk outfit Professor Murder, respectively) “New Flowers,” a swift, bongo and synth laden dance tune accented by wordless harmonies, was actually an example of how the duo combined the intricate, jazzy flourishes of Don Cab with the pulsing sheen of contemporary dance music to forge a more cerebral, less ephemeral version of the Tough Alliance.
Fast forward to the release of Tanline’s first proper EP, Settings in 2010, where the six track song list was split evenly between winding, island-infused, mostly instrumental numbers and infectious dance-pop tracks showcasing Emm’s unusually limber baritone. The EP’s stand out track “Real Life,” which perfectly integrated Emm’s vocals, a handful of earworm hooks, and leaner production that effectively compartmentalized the complicated percussion parts and rhythmic synth lines, proved that the duo’s pop instincts were sharper than previously realized.
And with their 2012 release Mixed Emotions, it appears as if Emm and Cohen have used “Real Life” (which was held over from Settings) as a blueprint for an entire album. Mixed Emotions is dominated by diamond precise production that perfectly calibrates summery synth-pop/percussion heavy compositions while showcasing Emm’s vocal work and subtly assured lyricism as the true engine of Tanlines’ sound.
The mathy, instrumental tracks that peppered Settings are now completely absent, and the result is an amazingly easy listen, and an album of few, if any, lulls. The dynamic lead single “Brothers” is propelled by a mid-tempo beat and washes of hydraulic-sounding synths, while Emm’s undulating voice laments the constant change of adult life, and the reluctance of self-awareness for people stuck in a state of arrested development. The chorus chimes: “You’re just the same as you ever were/you fight it and wonder why it makes no sense/I’m just the same as I’ve ever been/but I’m the only one who doesn’t notice it.” The one-two punch of the brisk, unabashedly fun, synth driven “All of Me” and 16-bit Springsteen homage “Green Grass” slide nicely into the atmospheric “Abby,” before snapping back into the summery, xylophone tinged dance-pop of “Yes Way.”
The emotional, anthemic “Not the Same” anchors the second half of the album, slowly building momentum with a pulsing piano/keyboard riff, echoing drum hits, and neon bright synth splashes. The soaring chorus has Emm again calling out the disillusionment associated with growing and changing as a person, contradicting himself as he howls “tell everyone/we haven’t changed/tell everyone/we’re not the same.”
Mixed Emotions is nothing less than a crystallization of Tanlines’ ambitions that were only hinted at on their past releases. By honing their laser-focused sense of composition, fully embracing their effortless knack for pop songcraft, and leaving room for the experimental influence of their past projects, Eric Emm and Jess Cohen have produced an album is both substantially intelligent and undeniably fun in equal measure.