There’s dance music, and then there’s music you can dance to, and skirting the line between the two is where you’ll find Tanlines. The Brooklyn-based duo of Eric Emm and Jesse Cohen make electronically-based songs, which they write and compose almost solely on computers. They’re signed to the mini mecca of indie dance-music labels, True Panther Sounds. Yet the pair occupies a curious space slightly to the left of their label mates and contemporaries, working off a rich palette of synth patches and electronic drumbeats to create highly percussive tracks with serious lyrical heart. When I caught up with Cohen via phone, he was between takes for the band’s latest video, a second effort at setting visuals to their song “All of Me.”
“The first video was really kind of dark,” he explained. “We made a new mix of the song, so we decided we should make a new video. It’s a little bit more summery; it’s a little lighter.”
The predicament is much like Tanlines itself: a strangely listenable concoction that’s equal parts dark and light, electro dance and indie pop. Take into account the pair’s respective backstories, though, and Tanlines’ sound begins to take shape. Cohen spent his pre-Tanlines years in electro-punk outfit Professor Murder, while Emm occupied his time with noise-rock projects Don Caballero and Storm & Stress. The duo first came together to form a production team of sorts, remixing tracks for indie artists like El Guincho and Au Revoir Simone before trying to write their own tracks. The results of those initial songwriting sessions eventually found their way to disc in 2010, when the band released their Settings EP.
As with all good buzz-band stories, Cohen and Emm quickly found themselves hitting the road, playing shows across the States with everyone from Yeasayer and The xx to Vampire Weekend and Rick Ross, all without ever releasing a proper full-length.
“There was a moment where the tours and everything ended and we said, ‘Okay, we’re going to sit down and write an album,’” recalled Cohen. “We thought it was going to go super quick, like three months. It ended up taking a lot longer, like over a year.”
While Cohen acknowledges that he and Emm definitely chose to take their time on the album, he also cites the loss of the band’s studio as one of the main reasons the project took them so long to complete.
“About halfway through the process, we were evicted. The whole building was sold,” he explained. “We ended up getting a new space and finishing the record there, but that first studio is where we had met; it was where we started writing music together. It was really tied up with all of our experiences as Tanlines.”
The experience ultimately impacted not only the band’s timeline but also the themes that run throughout their full-length debut, this March’s Mixed Emotions. The record finds Tanlines at their most vibrant and cohesive yet; it’s filled with upbeat, summery dance-floor anthems that capitalize on the band’s signature worldly percussion techniques and reliably swelling orchestrations. But it also sees Emm and Cohen exploring more lyrically dark territory.
“It’s definitely about this time of our lives and that kind of uncertainty when you’re forced to rethink what you’re born into and what your home is,” said Cohen, “and it happened in a very physical way while we were making this record.”
Of course, out of great struggles come great rewards, and Mixed Emotions is no exception. The record has received positive reviews across the blogosphere and managed to live up the hype that’s been building around Cohen and Emm for the past two years.
“I think before we did [Mixed Emotions], we were just like, ‘This is a cool sounding thing. Let’s put this out,’” said Cohen. “With this album, we wanted to make something that had a chance of lasting longer than whatever we’d been doing before. We put everything we could into this.”
Tanlines play an all-ages show at Velvet Jones (423 State St.) this Tuesday, June 26, at 8 p.m. Call (805) 965-8676 or visit clubmercy.com for tickets and info.