Tanlines Share Title Track Of Upcoming Album

Tanlines, aka Eric Emm and Jesse Cohen, release “The Big Mess,” the title track from their anticipated upcoming album, and first in eight years, The Big Mess, out May 19th on Merge. The song comes with a playful video directed by Emm.

“‘The Big Mess’ begins with the line, ‘It’s been a long time…’ As the album opener, it’s a winky-sad nod to our long absence along with a statement of purpose, catching up like no time has passed at all,” Emm explains. “‘The Big Mess’ as an idea and album unifier represents not only the evolution of our lives and partnership but also stands for both our (Tanlines-branded) work and its core identity—a colorful and signature melange of influences and ideas. Thoughtful, fun, serious, and sad all at the same time. A big mess.

“The video, too, shares these characteristics. Partly inspired by my 6-year-old who splatter painted our white kitchen while I snuck off to work on the album leaving him ‘painting at his easel for a few minutes,’ and expanding into an homage to the Fender Splattercaster I play in Tanlines (the video’s colors are based on the guitar). The video features us in full rock duo mode in our winky-sad take on an idea that *someone already did*—equal parts Jackson Pollock and Nickelodeon.”

Tanlines will be playing a record-release show on the rooftop stage at Brooklyn’s Elsewhere on June 6.Tickets are available here

The logo accompanying Tanlines’ 2012 debut album Mixed Emotions was a winking sad-face emoji—cute, even profound, in its dead-simple representation of two seemingly conflicting ideas at the same time. Eleven years later, Eric Emm and Jesse Cohen are still making escapist, joyful-sounding songs about sad, insular moments and melancholy songs about catharsis and joy, but the inherent contradictions have only grown. 

Tanlines are indie-rock lifers turned reasonable, happy middle-aged fathers of two, figuring out their place in a chaotic culture and industry that can no longer command their full attention.They are emblematic of a particular time and place that doesn’t really exist anymore, yet here they are existing, and thriving, in 2023. 

Which leads to maybe the most intriguing new contradiction: Tanlines is an established duo of longtime friends and collaborators, but Tanlines is also kind of a solo project. The Big Mess came together when Emm and his family moved from Brooklyn to rural Connecticut, while Cohen launched a marketing career and a successful podcast and stayed in the city. Emm continued writing songs—hundreds of them—through all the weirdness of the past few years, but he wasn’t exactly sure who he was writing them for. “I spent years figuring out in my mind, ‘What is my musical life going to look like?’” he says. “I just kept writing.”

Cohen gave Emm his blessing to continue Tanlines, even if his own contributions would be limited due to his own non-musical obligations. “I’m like, ‘Whatever you can do to keep this thing going, do it,’” Cohen says. “Eric stopped going to school as a teenager to make music—it’s in his blood, where it’s more in my brain.” And with that, Tanlines was reborn.

“That opened a new door in my mind,” says Emm. “I was like, ‘Oh, wait a second—I have this studio in my basement. I can record drums whenever I want. That’s the whole point of this.’”

It wasn’t until January 2022 that Emm felt he had a body of work that made sense as a Tanlines album, and the good people at Merge Records enthusiastically agreed. Cohen spent ten days with Emm at his Connecticut studio, along with unofficial third Tanline Patrick Ford. This was tied together with a sleek final mix from Peter Katis (The National, Interpol) at his famed Tarquin Studios, resulting in a clear vision of what Emm’s musical life was going to look like: The Big Mess.

“There’s a lot more reflection here, for Eric at least,” Cohen says, “on his past and his career as an artist, than we would have done before when we were banging out electronic pop tunes with sad melodies on top.” 

“It’s in my DNA,” Emm says, “to always be questioning everything. I’m not really a nostalgic person, but there were times when these songs were coming together when I found myself reflecting or even reckoning with some of my past and turning them into teaching moments.”

Those teaching moments have created a Tanlines that has not only evolved sonically, but thematically, as well. The Big Mess is concerned with what Emm calls “introspective masculinity.” As a father and a man, what concerned Emm was a thoughtful approach to the relationship that exists between fathers and sons, between men, and the expectations society places upon them.

The Big Mess album cover is a photo taken by Emm’s wife’s grandfather in Greece in 1952. Speaking again to the idea of two things at once, the photo is a bold and emotional image that is also muted and beige. Emm notes, “Something about this particular photo really spoke to me—the image of a shepherd who has this very self-possessed and somewhat inscrutable expression. He’s sort of straddling two different eras.” He continues, “Our debut EP featured a photo taken in a mall of an ad with two white guys smiling. This is a nod to that, but also represents a big shift in our roles. I’ve stepped closer to the front and have shepherded us here, so to speak. Now it’s one white guy smiling. It’s also a poke at aging and being a guy with gray hair and a beard. Not to mention his sartorial energy.”

Emm concludes, “I think of these songs as Rothko paintings: They’re big and they’re bold and they’re seemingly straightforward, but they have a lot of depth and they engage with you and make you feel something.”