Refreshing, but Ultimately Forgettable
One wonders, with a spectacular band name like Tanlines, if singer, Eric Emm and music maker, Jesse Cohen waited until the weather actually got hot to release their second full-length album, Highlights. As Brooklyn natives and veterans of the legendary New York summers, they know how hot it can truly get; that kind of humid, where just standing outside can make you sweat. And so, they probably thought that their eighties inspired synth-pop would be refreshing.
They were right. Musically, the ten songs on the album borrow heavily from the eighties, synth pop greats like Eurythmics, Duran Duran and New Culture Club. The piano, drum beat and synths on “Thinking” sound so much like Haddaways’ eighties classic that was made infamous by Saturday Night Live, “What is Love,” that you would think they sampled it. But the guitar riffs at the end of the song are a nice and unexpected touch. Meanwhile, the drums and cymbals on “Two Thousand Miles” sizzle like the hot tar on the sidewalk in a heat wave. While the light, airy guitar, bouncing drum beat and grooving baseline on “Bad Situations” recalls the Bee Gees brand of disco.
Although the record is mostly synth pop, there are some surprising and welcome deviations from the electronic base of the music. The base of the fifth track on the album, “Invisible Ways,” is an acoustic guitar that is backed up by the lonesome wail of a slide guitar and the even lonelier, singular, childlike notes of the piano. It is a standout track on the record, as Emm recounts how a lover told him they were leaving in “invisible ways.” So, he goes to “Montauk / And [he] is home.”
While this song and “Slipping Away” are nice breaks from the albums ever-constant synth pop, these songs don’t change the fact that behind the glossy production, there seems to be something missing. The music is upbeat and refreshing, but there is no emotional depth to it; nothing challenging about it. These days, everyone and their mothers are doing synth pop and they manage to give their lyrics some depths. Robyn’s 2010 album, Body Talk, was so successful not because of its sonic innovations, but because everyone could relate to lines like, “I’m in the corner, watching you kiss her, / I’m right over here, why can’t you see me, / I’m giving it my all, but I’m not the girl you’re taking home, / I keep dancing on my own.” Synth pop may be the genre that is incessantly play over the radio, but it is the lyrics of the songs that make them connect to each other.
Ultimately, Tanlines’ music on their latest release, Highlights, is refreshing, like a glass of lemonade after playing in the sun. The music is not as impactful as the sun itself. It leaves no tan lines.