By now, we’ve at least grown weary of the phenomenon that is the old internet single making its way onto the debut album. There are those favorable examples like Cults’ “Go Outside,” which turned out to be a harbinger of an incredibly rich, conceptually-developed album; there are also more regrettable examples like “Pumped Up Kicks” that succeeded only in tricking us into listening to an awful album.
For Tanlines’ Mixed Emotions, “Real Life” is that single: it’s a positively infectious, dynamic synth-pop tune that has resided on YouTube for over two years now. And it is an honest representation of what Mixed Emotions is all about: danceable, summery music that rides the same hazy, 80s-sounding, splashily percussive synth waves that have flooded our ears for the past, well, two years or so.
Thing is, Mixed Emotions is not just a lazy collection of cliché tropical pop, or a shallow stab at the “Let’s dance, betch” market. Songs like excellent album-opener “Brothers” and “Green Grass” are built to be blasted through car speakers with windows down; that is, they’re great for those good times that entail some non-attentive listening.
But the complexity and even pop-classicist bases of these songs means that sitting down and giving Mixed Emotions your full attention can be as equally rewarding. Tanlines have purportedly spent years working on this debut, and such is quite audible. These tracks are, if anything, meticulously and smartly assembled.
“All Of Me” is an early highlight, a blend of feel-good disco and not-so-sunny lyrical content featuring a sparkling, peaking chorus that delivers like few other cuts on the record. Another standout, “Not The Same,” begins by inhabiting some minimal, xx-sounding space before wedding the familiar shiny synths with a pleasantly pained, coarse chorus of “We’re not the same / We’re not the same.” And though it’s been noted that Eric Emm is “not a singer” (instead, primarily a producer), his voice serves the album’s purposes perfectly: it is deliberately brought forward, widely emotive, and as effortless as the beats are breezy. Those aforementioned hints of vocal abrasion frequently serve as a polar complement to those feel-good vibes, keeping the listener attentive.
Yet, despite this impressive, artful construction and a vast, interesting variety of sounds, the result is somehow mostly passable. The album does stay faithful to that “Real Life” sound — there are no surprises here, and certainly no letdowns if you loved “Real Life.” But few of the other 11 songs rival the buildup and release of “Real Life,” and many never really get off the runway at all.
It may be too harsh to label this as dated, and Tanlines have demonstrated here that they are incredibly talented. And this debut seems, for better or worse, primed for mainstream acceptance for any number of reasons (timing, accessibility, etc.). But this is not a timeless sound, and there’s simply nothing refreshing here. Rather, Mixed Emotions seems served just too late, and comes off as regrettably stale. One just wonders if given less time to so intricately record and produce, Tanlines might be able to knock us off of our feet.