Tanlines Electric Owl, Vancouver BC, July 7

Tanlines Electric Owl, Vancouver BC, July 7
Photo: Jenn McInnis
It's been three years since Brooklyn duo Eric Emm and Jesse Cohen, aka Tanlines, released their breakout debut LP, Mixed Emotions. The effort's lighthearted blend of synth-pop tunes filled the demand for summer anthems; this year, the duo returned with Highlights, which added more Balearic and Caribbean-toned pop structures to their breezy sound.
Backed by a touring drummer and extra guitarist, the duo seemed prepared to flesh out their understated rhythms, brassy synths and twanging guitar lines. But it didn't quite come together; they dove right into a showcase of their new material, but the performance lacked any sense of purpose and the songs failed to hit hard enough to engage the audience.
The duo went at an unhurried pace that, at times, killed the momentum of the show. Emm and Cohen tried to fill the dead air of their too-long breaks between songs with their offbeat sense of humour, squeezing small rounds of applause from the crowd, and laughing self-consciously about the lengths they went to get a laugh. Why, one had to ask, wouldn't they just rely on their music to set the tone?

At times, it all felt a little too much like scrolling through the Tanlines twitter feed, all tongue-in-cheek one-liners. Eventually, the crowd seemed to agree with the band that they were trying just a little bit too hard to be funny.
Near the end of the set, Tanlines set into a host of more upbeat material from Mixed Emotions, which, judging by the receptiveness of the crowd, seems to be their work with which most of their audience connected on an emotional level. It might have balanced out the set to sprinkle that material throughout the show, instead of clogging it together so late.
By the time the bold chorus of "All of Me" rang out, there were more hands in the air than bodies on the floor, which is too bad, as the spirited performance brought the duo's past singles to life.
After a lukewarm first half of the show, Tanlines salvaged their set somewhat by the end, but it was just a little too late.