London duo TENDER’s debut album, ‘Modern Addiction,’ listens like catharsis. From orgasm, to break-up, to silence, the record breaths closure to a relationship that has intensified, shattered, and healed. It is young, cold, urban, lonely, and an intrinsically modern look at the irrepressible desire to maintain a love, be it destined or doomed. James Cullen and Dan Cobb’s debut full length explores the phenomenon of comfort and compulsion that is addiction, via a pop record about a relationship. Cullen frames familiar feelings for us to relate to and digest, but simultaneously undermines their presence, leaving the listener holding the same hollow heart that he carried through his addiction. Cobb’s soaring synths and progressive percussion are waxed and shined by the album’s sleek club mix, and the juxtaposition with Cullen’s lyrics is heartbreaking.
Cullen and Cobb formed TENDER in 2015, as the bedroom project of two flatmates tired of the design-by-committee nature of larger musical groups. Due to their intimate personal geography, Cobb was privy to the ’toxic’ relationship that gestated Cullen’s lyrics, and this record. Gladly enough, in regards to music-making with Cobb, “Nothing seemed like a struggle. We never fought anything,” Cullen remembers. They self-released a few songs and “Armour” wound up on the front page of Reddit a few hours later (with several hundred thousand plays on Soundcloud). Two years and three EPs later, TENDER now have tens of millions of streams across Soundcloud, Spotify and YouTube and have enjoyed Hype Machine’s #1 spot several times with several different tracks.
‘Modern Addiction’ is about duality, the unreliable polarity of human magnetics. The opening track, ‘Illuminate,’ describes a struggle for independence in the face of scale-tipping dominance. ’Vow’ finds beauty in the unique balance of a moment. ‘Nadir,’ the album’s most precise emotional indictment, lurches from underneath, “I hate it when you touch me, but I’ve kept it under wraps / Get bored of trying foreplay and I think we’re getting fat.” Swimming in between polished sub tones and global rhythms are relatable fallacies of love. These tracks have refreshingly inclusive sensual detail, and are liquid enough in their diction to be tangible to those who navigate the many flavors of romance in the year 2017. These are ultimately pop songs, meant to illuminate the ubiquitous but hidden. “We want it to make people connect with each other. We want to evoke emotion. We want people to dance,” says Cobb.
While ‘Modern Addiction’ often deals with the bleak realities of a love that’s fading, repeated listens offer a sense of optimism. It’s the relief that comes from getting through to the other side. The second half of the ‘Nadir’ is about “loving someone in a different way,” Cullen says. “Because it isn’t how it was in the beginning, doesn’t mean it’s not real.”
TENDER’s ‘Modern Addiction’ provides fresh perspective to the idea of addiction, through the lens of love. It is unafraid to admit or to accuse, eager to confide and to provide, in direct, shimmering confessionals. The irony is that Cullen seems to have not been afforded these luxuries in his personal relationship, and observing his self-portrait leaves the listener feeling similarly ephemeral and isolated. All save for that of his musical relationship with Cobb, who’s dynamic and punctual dark-pop flavor echoes his bandmate’s struggle with audible landscapes appropriately smooth in their tones and jagged in their turns. ‘Modern Addiction’ is a window to overdose, intervention, relapse, and sobriety. For the listener, it’s the experience of being on both sides of the glass.