Tahiti 80’s resurgence, The Past, The Present, & The Possible, is 11 tracks of punchy, immaculately produced electro-pop, and if that’s your bag, then this is your album, maybe of the year. Even if it’s not your bag, you might still have a pretty good time listening. The French group’s ruthlessly catchy choruses, tight harmonies, danceability, major keys, and easy, empty lyrics: All of it adds up to a mindless good time, one that only the truly cold-hearted could dismiss completely. Sure, the pleasure you take in listening may be guilt-laden, and doubtlessly you will cringe during the more saccharine patches. But you will also have to admit: The Past, The Present, & The Possible is executed with impressive skill, the sort of song-crafting abilities only experience can buy.
Indeed, in indie pop years, Xavier Boyer and Pedro Resende have been in the scene for a while: they founded Tahiti 80 all the way back in 1993, in Paris, France. A year later, Médéric Gontier and drummer Sylvain Marchand joined the duo, and their first EP, 20 Minutes, was released in 1996. The Past, The Present, & The Possible finds them a sextet, with the addition of Julien Barbagallo and Raphaël Léger. Often and inevitably, Tahiti 80 are compared to French indie-pop contemporaries Phoenix and Air. But unlike the aforementioned, they have yet to enjoy any real mainstream popularity, despite their relatively large discography and penchant for short, sweet, hyper-accessible tunes. The Past, The Present, & The Possible, the band’s first record since 2008’s Activity Center, may very well change that.
Where past efforts were dreamier, more meandering, The Past, The Present, & The Possible captures the band at their well-polished peak: aggressively charming, bent on pleasing, these tracks locate the shortest distance between your speakers and the pleasure centers in your brain. They are gratifying in the same basic ways that chocolate, sex, and laughter are gratifying. The secret? If I knew, I’d be manning a French pop outfit. But, clearly, one of the more effective tricks is the shameless repetition of golden hooks. Most of the tracks stick to this formula: (1) introduce hook, (2) deviate from said hook by way of another hook, and (3) return triumphantly to original hook. It is simple, and it is incessant, and when it doesn’t annoy the hell out of you — as is the case with all eight, squawky minutes of “Crack Up (Extended)” — it works.
Take, for instance, the album’s opener, “Defender.” The song begins with a sweetly overdriven bass line — a hook unto itself, really — that quickly assumes the role of backbone as more and more elements are thrown on the happy electro-fire: a readily hummable verse, guitars, a Stereolab-esque organ pulse, rising synth lines, oohs and aahs. And so it goes for many of the album’s songs. Layers accumulate and dissipate and accumulate again, but never confound; it’s all done in the name of pop. And despite the business of the mix, each of the myriad instrumental and vocal tracks retain their specialness, their autonomy. This is one of the record’s great strengths. Ten different things might be happening, but you can still pick out that cute little synth lead.
But if The Past, The Present, & The Possible’s succeeds in enchanting the listener with its shiny façade, it fails in providing much else; delve, in other words, and you will find little of substance. This fact is made most apparent by the lyrics. Maybe it’s because they’re French dudes trying their best with English, but Tahiti 80 write pretty bad lyrics. Granted, most are just sort of generic and harmless. “Darlin’, I don’t want to let you down,” sings Xavier Boyer on the album’s second track, and, as a casual listener, you can overlook the hackneyed line. “Want Some?,” one of the album’s more aurally pleasing tracks, features lyrics that manage ABBA-grade stupidity: “If you want some/ You know I got some/ If I want some.” Huh. “Gate 33” is about rock star idolatry, which could be interesting, but the lyrics fall far, far short of profundity: “I don’t really know who you are/ But I love the way you play your guitar.” At least it rhymes.
Fortunately, considering the strength of the hooks, the lyrics are merely ancillary. And while those strengths may begin to feel less than exhilarating after third, fourth, and fifth listens, that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t give The Past, The Present & The Possible a chance. So, come at this record like you would, say, a tube of refrigerated cookie dough: Indulge, but cautiously, knowing full well the likelihood of overdoing it.