True Panther Sounds
Tanlines have always had a reputation for being jokesters — from their videos to their Twitter account — even their early, light Balaeric-tinged singles made the Brooklyn duo seem a little like just another Brooklyn group of goofy guys taking a dip into home production. That could be why they chose such a stoic photo of themselves to adorn their first album Mixed Emotions in 2012 — a fairly fun, uplifting album that never quite suited its sleeve. It should be noted though, that that album had great songs. It was immediately enjoyable for sure but it was also a grower, moving beyond initial stimulation to be an album built on genuine earworm hooks (“All of Me” in particular would end up in my personal top 5 favorite songs of the year list).
It’s three years later, and not much has changed, which is fine in my book. The band are still hilarious off record, and making tender, head-bopping music on it. The Balaeric beat obsession that took over musicians in the early ‘00s might have peaked with Disclosure’s debut album, but Tanlines still make it sound fresh (although they claim to have never really listened to any music from Ibiza before).
Lyrically, Eric Emm is also at his most candid and affectionate. The record is filled with tons of lines you might fling at your partner over a nice walk through the park. “You know what I’m thinking without ever letting on,” he sings on “Thinking.” On the warm opener “Pieces,” the hook centers around the idea of not being able to handle even a temporary separation. It’s a perfect, mid-tempo pop song sounding like what would likely be the best part of sitting through a romantic comedy Elsewhere on Highlights, the group shows some branching out. Single “Invisible Ways” is a twangy thumper akin to Brooklyn contemporaries Crystal Stilts, but with a more commanding vocal. The song might be the best work they’ve done to date, it evoking western horizons while still feeling very much the kind of thing made by an urban band, loose strumming and robust bass work affixed with intricate percussion and lush backing vocals. It’s very easy to picture palm trees swaying and the winking lights of New York City at the same time while listening to it.
Calling an album Highlights is definitely a cheeky move, but one that doesn’t feel totally out of place here. While none of these songs are quite as ecstatic as the anthemic “All of Me,” the way Tanlines mixes reflectiveness and confidence-building soundscapes is unique, and not enough can be said about their masterful use of building percussive beds that are active but never smothering. They also prove at times that they could fare just as well as jangle pop band, with songs like the lovely “If You Stay” and the aforementioned “Invisible Ways” relying just as much interweaving guitar moves as much as four-on-the-floor beats. For a record as effortlessly pleasant as Highlights, it’s surprising it would take three years between records to produce it, but perhaps the duo takes as much time honing that simplicity in their songs as they do making really funny promos. Either way, it’s always a comfort to have them around.