Addiction is a word that is tossed around without serious care. It has weighty connotations, implying that something is hard or impossible to stop. But it has entered the cultural lexicon as a shorthand for temporary infatuation, like “I’m addicted to that show on Netflix,” or “I’m addicted to this cheddar jalapeño kettle corn.” But what is it, truly? You can argue it’s to a substance, or an activity, like exercise. We live in an on-demand, no-wait culture. We binge watch TV, food and can collect more music than can ever actually be listened to in a lifetime. So, what does that mean in today’s world? London based group Tender defines it differently, illustrating the disintegration of a toxic relationship on their debut, aptly titled Modern Addiction.
Formed as a bedroom project in 2015 by James Cullen and Dan Cobb, the two flat mates began writing songs informed by a relationship-turned-bad in Cobb’s life. The musical connection was instant and effortless, and after two years and a few EP’s later, the duo has racked up millions of streams on Soundcloud, Spotify and YouTube. The failure of the relationship seems to have been fruitful. Modern Addiction seems to dig deeper examining all moments under the microscope.
That’s apparent on the opening track “Illuminate,” an icy synth drone beginning with a sample of what sounds like a mid-century etiquette record. Not long after, Cullen starts asking questions: “If I refused, would you take me for a coward?/ Call me crying in the shower, but I wasn't scared / At least none of you know how it feels, so fractious and empowered/I was but a delicate flower in need of care.” Cullen’s naked vulnerability is out on the table, as Cobb illustrates the numbing feeling of true loss. It sets the tone for the following track, the standout “Nadir”. It talks about when the physical feeling of addiction stops feeling right. Cullen says it plainly: “I hate it when you touch me, but I kept it under wraps / Get bored during foreplay, and I think we’re getting fat / Tried to go the distance, but we’re only wasting time / Who’re we kidding?” It’s a brutal, bruising statement that might hit close to home for anyone who’s stuck with the wrong partner for too long.
What sets Tender apart from many synth-heavy acts is how the soundscapes here feel purely emotional – they have an intimacy with Cullen’s enervated vocals. The blips and vocal samples feel organic. They are feelings with final flickers – something that burned much brighter but now is just a memory, re-constituted into something less than they were. This feels real, especially on tracks like “Erode”. “If you want me like that, that's who I'll be / And if you love me right back, I could be anything,” Cullen sings. The desperation in his voice conveys trying to engineer good feelings from the emptiness. But even he figures that it’s just a vicious cycle. “Then you'll leave and come back / The odds are starting to stack / Against me.”
The sounds here - fading and fragmented, very modern in their sleekness, illustrate when something becomes unhealthy and uncontrollable. Tender realizes that. As the album unfolds, the songs become less about heartbreak and more about resentment, like the shimmering “Blame”. By the time the album reaches its closing track, “Trouble”, the relationship is in hindsight. “Looking back / I think that I loved you too much / I was tearing you apart / Right from the start / We were destined to fail / I don't know where to begin” It also provides an idea of where the group can go next.
In this case, addiction begets recovery. Then the cleanup of the mess left behind begins. Tender has come a long way, but if Modern Addiction is any example, the road to starting anew seems a lot brighter.
- Brendan Hilliard, Obviate Media
This review was written by Brendan Hilliard, of Obviate Media. Obviate Media is a Chicago-based blog covering music and pop culture. Check them out, here: Obviate Media.
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