Tensnake ‘Glow’ – Review

19 Apr

The dance album that has dominated discussion in 2014 so far has been the long-awaited, and ironically rush-released, debut by Skrillex, an album so long in the making that it sounds entirely different to the brand of loutish E.D.M Skrillex helped popularise half a decade ago. But more exciting, as far as I’m concerned, is another long-awaited debut, that also happens to sound nothing like what we once may have expected. Tensnake caught our attention in 2009/2010 with an impeccable series of extended cuts that easily rank as my favourite House records of recent years (‘Coma Cat’ in particular is euphoric perfection). It’s been a quiet couple of years since I last heard from Tensnake, and I’d started to wonder if he would ever live up to his early promise. Now, almost out of nowhere as far as I can tell, we have ‘Glow’.

Instead of being a round-up of those excellent singles (that would have ben a far better, but far less interesting album), Tensnake takes the brave approach of starting from scratch, with 16 brand new songs. Not only that, the album takes him further away from the Disco tinged House Revival music he built his name on, and towards an electro-pop sound. His early songs always had a pop element to them – big melodies, sunny hooks, memorable choruses – but on ‘Glow’ he takes several radical steps towards the mainstream. Instead of the extended cuts we’re use to, here almost all the songs are a radio friendly three minutes. Vocals are brought well and truly to the forefront with lots of appearances by vocalist Fiora. Most importantly, as far as Radio and Label bosses will be concerned, a couple of these songs feature the guitar work on Mr Nile Rodgers. Yep, Tensnake is properly going after the ‘Get Lucky’ audience.

Who can really blame him? To be fair, Tensnake was doing Disco revival long before Daft Punk’s comeback. ‘Coma Cat’ may have been a House song but it borrowed more than a little from Disco’s 1970’s hey-dey. What Tensnake has smartly done is bring these elements to the fore without losing credibility. The shorter song lengths mean the 16 songs never drag their heels, and the album flies by in a happy blur – particularly the first half. ‘See Right Through You’ and ‘Love Sublime’ are the best shots at getting Tensnake noticed, and for my money they’re just as catchy as anything Rudimental, or any other House revival acts, put out last year. Tensnake spends the first half of the album playing in this realm, before moving in slightly stranger directions on the album’s more experimental second half. These are unquestionably the weaker songs on the album as they don’t really play to Tensnake’s strengths; the moody ‘Things Left to Say’ and ’58 BPM’ for example don’t really add anything but take a long time not adding it. Fiora’s vocals are strong but not strong enough to carry the songs on its own; ultimately it’s the music we want to pay attention to, and it doesn’t always add up to much more than a load of retro nods and winks.

The album is called ‘Glow’ and in its best moments it really does exude a bright light, even if it isn’t wholly consistent. So much modern dance music is either too dreary, too obscure, too elitist or too…Calvin Harris. What I love most about ‘Glow’ is perhaps what House purists will dislike most about it; it’s inclusive and completely populist. The deliberately nostalgic choruses are meant to sound familiar, the beats aren’t there to trip you up, the sirens, woops and classic disco effects are all designed to put a smile on your face. DJs and Producers have spent the past 10 years moving relentlessly forward in pursuit of innovation but Tensnake doesn’t seem intrested in that, for better or worse. Like Disclosure and Daft Punk, Tensnake is more excited about revisiting the sounds of the past in order to carve out music that everyone can enjoy. I’ve expressed my opinion on this before – Dance music should make you want to dance, and so much of the stuff is repellant in 2014. Tensnake lures you to the dancefloor with a smile and open arms.

Tensnake is the opposite of Skrilex and his E.D.M brethrin, who he gently mocks on ‘Ten Minutes’ where you can almost hear the sniggers as a girl insults the producer and asks instead for ‘big bass…like dubstep…like club step.’ As I expressed at the start of this review, Skrillex has moved on from that sound now, so mockery seems an odd gesture on Tensnake’s part. As much as I like ‘Glow’ there is a danger that with all the retro finishes, and the ironic, sly insult to a style of E.D.M going out of fashion, Tensnake is living too much in the past. It’s fun to look back but great things only happen when you look to the future.

7.5/10

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