Parsian Records · November 4, 2016
By: Anita Wu
*Out of 5
Comprised of two members, James Cullen and Dan Cobb, Tender has been growing in strength since their debut in 2015. The duo has had their share of steady releases, which have been consistent throughout with their R&B-electro sound. With two EPs to date, Armour (2015) and EP II, which came out earlier this year, the band’s discography is limited but strong. On November 4th, fans were graced with the arrival of their newest EP, simply entitled EP III, which is comprised of five singles, three of which had been released independently. Tender are the masters of dark pop, which despite not being an official musical genre, surprisingly works. Take a listen to any of their tracks and you will immediately notice an R&B inflection with electro grooves that is striking and introspective.
The album opens with “Oracle”, the most recent track released. It has a polished edge, opening with a sample that cries “so dark” which is an apt introduction to the rest of what’s to come on this record. Transporting the listener into a broody, mysterious wonderland, the track includes steady beats and a looping vocal that creates a sense of hypnosis.
“Violence” follows, easily my favourite track off of this EP. It exudes the same ambience of a late night drive, with cars speeding across the highway and the flickering yellow glow of a street lamp. It’s smooth and striking, with the two lamenting on riddling anxiety – “we’ve all got damage done / I’ll pretend to be someone / but I don’t want to talk about it.”
“Design” mixes modern R&B with funky synths and up tempo beats, an unusually optimistic offering by the band. The infectiously upbeat mood created serves as a distraction from the obsessive lyrics that, as Cullen and Cobb explained to Consequence of Sound, are about a controlling, destructive relationship that can be both indulgent and trapping.
“Smoke,” compared to the rest of the EP, seems a little out of place, with electronic guitar licks that bob and weave over the 3-minute track. A down-tempo song with their usual flair of tickling beats and vibrant instrumentation, “Smoke” comes with fewer words to accompany the sound and offers a musical sway that is difficult to describe, but fun to experience.
EP III finishes with “Outside”, a particularly well known single in the UK music market with BBC Radio 1 DJs giving the track a regular spin. A textural song that warps synths and uses syncopated drums, it encompasses the band’s mission to create “dark grooves with room to breathe”. The guitar lines are soul searing and the harmonies are evocative. It’s raw and vulnerable like the band’s name.
Similar to how their artwork features obscure, moody textures, EP III offers the same sonic experience for Tender fans and newcomers to the band. Integrating steady, hypnotic beats with smooth vocals and synthesised sounding guitars, Tender is broody and passionate. Their songs create a sultry soundscape that fuses R&B, pop, and electronica, and transports you somewhere else, each and every time. Adding to their solid discography, EP III is a dark record with warm undertones that will have you pressing repeat a few more times.
Listen to EP III here: