Album Review: TENDER – Modern Addiction

By on Thursday, 31st August 2017 at 12:00 pm
 

TENDER Modern Addiction album coverI’m sure it is to some folks’ grievous disappointment, but I don’t think it’s such a surprise to see the field for the race to the Next Great British Guitar Band crown shrinking. We’re living in a period of continually evolving music technology and like it or not, this technology is here to stay. It affords to artists new ways of expressing themselves and the ability to try out so many more new sounds and styles than ever before. James Cullen and Dan Cobb were classmates and both had begun their interest in music playing guitar, having participated in different bands before working together in TENDER. The name of their debut album for Partisan Records out this week, ‘Modern Addiction’, drives home the idea that the modern world we find ourselves in makes it all the more difficult to keep relationships alive, whether that be physically or psychologically.

In the glut of today’s commercial pop, TENDER’s approach to telling their stories is refreshingly minimalist. Like the original form of the xx before them, Cullen and Cobb’s brand of synthpop isn’t intended to hit you over the head with grand gestures, overblown production or pretension. The term ‘slow burner’ would be particularly apt here. The rhythms and effects they’ve chosen to use throughout ‘Modern Addiction’ add varying shades of colour, helping to illustrate Cullen’s own mental deterioration as he experienced the destruction of a long-term relationship first-hand. Themes of dependency, surrender and resoluteness are all examined here. Frankly, if it weren’t for the hypnotically seductive rhythms and the interesting choice of instruments, this would be a hard listen. The lyrics are akin to those of Elena Tonra’s of Daughter: cutting commentary on a life ripped apart and emotions run high when a heart breaks.

The LP’s preview singles were chosen well, as they’re winners. The repetitive xylophone notes introduce the oddly up tempo ‘Nadir’. “Tried to go the distance but we’re only wasting time / who are we kidding? / this is our divide”, sings Cullen, pointing out the breaking point of the relationship has been reached, and there’s no turning back now. In the more solemn bridge, he continues with “with all I’ve done and all I say / I’ve been loving you in a different way”. Heartbreaking. ‘Machine’ is about going through the motions in life and not having as much free will as us humans like to think we have. With its irresistible beat and Cullen’s sufficiently delicate vocals, the stark reality of the song’s meaning dissolves into its catchiness. A similar theme is revisited later on the slow jam ‘Sickness’, full of battling synths and seeming to point to depression brought on by what’s happening in the world today.

On ‘Erode’ (NSFW video below), Cullen compares himself to an island, its sand and constitution being worn away by his lover’s ocean-like pummeling. The song’s sensual, slow ooze matches Cullen’s own toxic dependency on her, offering up the words, “if you want me like that, that’s who I’ll be / if you’ll love me right back, I could be anything”. Conversely, on ‘Blame’, he’s firm in his insistence that she won’t break him and he won’t come crawling back, as the lead synth line buzzes along with similar confidence.

As you might have guessed, the ‘80s driving number ‘Powder’ is a blistering denunciation of a drug-taking fake friend who only comes around when she needs company. Like the fallout from a broken relationship examined elsewhere on ‘Modern Addiction’, its central theme is satisfying relatable on the grounds that more than ever in this age of social media and smartphones, we’re surrounded by fair weather, superficial acquaintances who don’t really care about us. That’s more problematic on a psychological level than most people will admit. ‘Trouble’ closes the album with a plaintive guitar line, a bluesy feel that reminds us that all taken together, this is a pop record that just happens to be synthesiser-forward.

For a debut, TENDER have done admirable work on ‘Modern Addiction’. Instead of falling back on guitars or booming percussion to add texture, they’ve used synths well to create suitably moody backdrops for James Cullen’s lyrics. While a bit slow in places, it’s the kind of ‘grower’ record that synthpop fans will gravitate to.

7.5/10

‘Modern Addiction’, the debut album from London synthpop duo Tender, is out tomorrow, the 1st of September, on Partisan Records. For more of our coverage here on TGTF on Tender, follow this link.

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