The debut LP from Tanlines is titled Mixed Emotions for good reason: The story of this record’s conception and development is a bipolar one. The Afro-house duo, consisting of Eric Emm (formerly of math-rock noodlers Don Caballero) and Jesse Cohen (of Professor Murder) started as a project between friends and quickly blossomed into a New York sensation, with shows at the Guggenheim and opening sets for Julian Casablancas. And then, after a European tour that was lukewarm at best, the duo came to the realization that sunny beach beats weren’t enough. And so, after mining through its favorite stadium rock and skate-punk records, Tanlines set out to craft songs that weren’t just danceable but lasting: Call it Afro-pop on a mission of worldwide musical domination.
It’s not the first time a band has drawn from the worldly pop of Peter Gabriel in crafting its musical identity; fellow New Yorkers Vampire Weekend became millionaires following a similar ideology, and Gotye’s smash “Somebody That I Used To Know” is perhaps the biggest Afro-pop hit since the days when Mr. Gabriel topped the charts. But Mixed Emotions has plenty of characteristics to differentiate it from other modern reinterpretations, chief among them being a sense of foreboding gloom to punctuate the tropical sunniness. Opener “Brothers” bristles with post-punk moodiness: “I’m just the same as I ever been/But I’m the only one who doesn’t notice it,” booms Emm, skirting that gray area between optimism and apathy. For a genre so dominated by chirpy falsettos, it’s a welcome change to hear the bongos and day-glo synths (featured heavily on “Real Life” and “Cactus”) paired with Emm’s hearty baritone. It grounds the translucent, sun-washed beats nicely, giving space for Cohen’s nuances to shine—the bouncy xylophones of “Yes Way,” the crisp percussion of “Rain Delay.”
Mixed Emotions operates best in this balance between beachy and brooding. Lead single “All Of Me” is stellar, a musical ping-pong match between Manchester house and Afrobeat. It’s got everything: joyous background vocals, a pulsating bassline and a delightful tribal beat. Slower songs threaten to recall memories of the slow jams you suffered through at Spring Fling 1985 (closer “Nonesuch” being the worst offender), but fortunately, the record for the most part sticks to the upbeat. Even with Mixed Emotions‘ tumultuous gestation, Emm and Cohen have overcome, with a lean, lighthearted LP of which Toto would be proud.