After showing off one of the most refreshing album rollouts in recent history (see: fake websites, conference calls, and blockbuster billboards), synth pop duo Tanlines don't seem to be running out of ways to up the ante on tour. Eric Emm and Jesse Cohen brought a rock-heavy four piece setup to Neumos on Tuesday night, bringing both the new album Highlights and their instant classic 2012 LP debut Mixed Emotions to vibrant new life. Furthermore, their choice of touring opener couldn't be more perfect: the left field electronic pop wunderkind Thomas Arsenault, a.k.a. Mas Ysa. With Mas Ysa dropping his new LP, Seraph, in a week and with Highlights only a few weeks out of the oven, both of these wonderful bands were in full form tonight, showing off new material and getting excellent reactions out of the packed out crowd. Truly a great night for some of New York's best indie dance music.
On record, Mas Ysa is a whirlwind of emotions. His singles range from the broken, haunting whisper of "Years" to the freakout bipolarity of "Why" to the danceable tear-jerker tribute "Margarita" to the rave-ready explosion of "Arrows". Thomas Arsenault is a man with no limits to his emotional expression put to tape. This, perhaps, is what makes his live presence so off-putting at first. On the stage, he does everything in his power to enforce those limits. His table sags under the weight of dinosaur equipment. His rig of rave-era techno classic drum machines and synthesizers isn't built for stage-ready transitions like the Ableton Live plug ins of the present day. And yet, it's what gives Mas Ysa its incredibly unique sound. The mixture of hard-hitting techno and soft-spoken voice and piano is even more jarring than it is on tape. At times, Arsenault went between complete ambience and sixteenth note heavy bass drum in a matter of ten seconds. The first half of the set was 100% comprised of unreleased material, which made for a quite the air of mystery. But heating up the night towards the headliner set, Thomas threw in more material from his upcoming record, as well as the now-classic "Why", which only recently joined the throws of his live onslaught. By the time Mas Ysa wrapped up, the room was packed with plenty of enveloped fans. It's been four appearances now in Seattle, and when it's finally time for Mas Ysa to return to the city for a headlining gig, I guarantee the room will be packed just the same.
Tanlines seem like they do what they do effortlessly. Mixed Emotions may have taken some time in the middle emotionally, but every song was one synth pop single after another. Before you knew the album was over, it was already starting over again, dropping some of the most addictive stuff we heard in 2012. Highlights the newest entry in their impeccable catalogue, is more of the same. Sonically, the band continues to move away from their club-ready roots of older tracks like "S.A.W.". The direction they are headed takes the synth pop and mixes it with more classic arrangement songwriting, which, of course, Eric and Jesse do in totally seamless fashion. The cool alt-country swing of "Invisible Ways" plays just before the pounding "Running Still", one of the most emotionally overpowering dance tracks Tanlines have given us yet. And everywhere in between, they only give us more gold. "Pieces" and "Slipping Away" are two sides of one flawless pop coin, one heavier on the electronic drums, and the other slipping (hah!) into dream pop territory with the guitars. It's all great stuff. But moreover, combining Highlights with the rest of Tanlines' back catalogue makes a pretty excellent pool of material for an hour long set.
With the expanded lineup, Tanlines have never sounded better. When we saw them as a two piece at Capitol Hill Block Party last year, a backing track helped fill in the cracks while Eric kept the guitars ripping and the vocals soaring, and Jesse did some technological magic and played a half drum kit with a full kit's intensity. But with four dudes, the band feels really alive on stage. There's no need for additional support over the loudspeaker. Everyone on stage just rips into their respective role and the result is nothing but magic. Even the most house-heavy of the band's older material made the jump quite well. Of course, Jesse kept a great warmth with the crowd the whole night, making half jokes and banter about the people in the rafters (classic Neumos). After playing the slow burner "Two Thousand Miles", he remarked "That has to be in the top three sexiest songs we've ever written. I think about pretty much everything we do in terms of lists". Beginning to end, Tanlines showed off their new record in fantastic style.
Highlights is out now on True Panther! Grab it at your local record store on CD or vinyl. Also look for Mas Ysa's Seraph, out next week on Downtown!
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