Tanlines ‘Highlights’ – Review

31 Jul

Tan lines reveal the boundary between what is exposed to the sun and what you’d rather remain hidden. It seems a noble aim of any band to take this idea and metaphorically apply it to music – to explore not just the tanned, exposed emotions but to peel off the layers and hold up the pale, secret thoughts and emotions to close scrutiny. Tanlines, the band, straddle this line, producing music that is at times revealing and intimate.

‘Highlights’ is Tanlines second album, and it’s a ‘second verse same as the first’ kind of deal. With their shimmering, crystalline guitars and simple drum machine patterns, the duo recall no-one so much as The Drums, and on lead single ‘Slipping Away’ they produce a song that is every bit as catchy and pop-perfect as anything written by that band. In fact, the opening third of the record is exceptionally sharp and on point.’Pieces’ is a laid back opener that places an irresistible melody alongside a bubbly baseline and jangly Johnny Marr-esque guitar lead. ‘Palace’ is a heartfelt, upbeat ballad with a convincing refrain of ‘I don’t want to know what it feels like, to be lost and alone.’ The stuttering beat and simple arrangement is a fitting match for Emm’s modest and delicate vocal.

The elements don’t always come together so seamlessly. The buzz saw synth that announces ‘Two Thousand Miles’ rubs up awkwardly against a lightweight melody, and from this moment out the duo start moving in unflattering directions. When they drift too far from their mildly Balearic, New Wave sweet spot they start to seem distinctly average. This is true on the slow and dreary ‘Invisible Ways’ and the higher energy ‘Thinking’. And so Tanlines have a seriously limited range that makes for a catch 22 situation; when they stray too far from their strengths they fall flat but when they stick to what they’re good at they become two dimensional and repetitive.

In a similar way, the better lyrics are the ones that don’t strain for ambition or meaning. The melodramatic, universal sentiments delivered on ‘Pieces’ and ‘Slipping Away’ most clearly leave an impression. A few too many lines begin with ‘maybe’ or ‘I remember’ without ultimately going anywhere but there is the sense that Emm is opening himself up and exploring deep memories.  Elsewhere he aims for mystery and ambiguity but ends up somewhere frustratingly vague and indecisive. However when he keeps it simple, Emm is an effective and personable lyricist. This may be faint praise in some respects but Tanlines are a modest band; they aren’t aiming to change the world or start trends, they are simply a workmanlike, somewhat mediocre pop duo. It remains to be seen if they will ever amount (or want to amount) to more than that. There are hints on here that they might.

6/10

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