Tan Sleeve is a combination of Lane Steinberg and Steve Barry. Barry was previously known as Steve Katz and this tandem were part of an ‘80s band called the Wind, which was described by Rolling Stone scribe Kurt Loder as a cross between the Beatles and Big Star. Not a bad duo really. But like most bands, the jump from obscure cult-like status and mainstream success never came about. It didn’t stop them from forging ahead. Now they have released a new album that doesn’t fall too far from this musical tree. Both Steinberg and Barry have ventured into some new territory with the album, but the sweet, cavity-inducing harmonies are here by the bushel.
Beginning with the piano-fuelled “Equidistant”, Tan Sleeve rely on a Britpop groove to get the point, bringing to mind Rialto or the Smiths to a lesser degree. “Equidistant, we’re equidistant,” they sing, perhaps knowing that there are few words that rhyme with equidistant. Lacking a strong backbeat and instead using a bland trip-hop tempo that isn’t really selling the song, the tune still manages to pass the bar, albeit barely. “Maria Bartiromo” fares much better, coming off with enough power pop hooks and jangle to bring the Byrds or Petty to mind. “Time waits for a moment to spare / And the style of her hair / Gives them hope everywhere,” the lyric goes on this concise, economical two-minute and change ditty. There is also a certain smartness or highbrow approach to the tune, as if Michael Penn has been tutoring them.
Throughout the album, the piano is the basis of most tunes, especially on the slow, deliberate and plodding, late-Beatles “Destruction”. It’s a lovely harmony you can easily hum along to despite creeping along at a snail’s pace. Far more fluid is the quirkily-titled “It Doesn’t Snow in New York Anymore”. An acoustic guitar meets the piano halfway for the song to glide along in a McCartney-esque fashion. Or if you could think of this song tacked onto the end of the soundtrack for I Am Sam you’d get the gist of it. They go off the deep end into the Bakersfield Buck Owens-meets-Dwight Yoakam hoedown on “Puffy’s Gun” that includes harmonica and organ. It’s an acquired taste but should be approved on the second or third listen perhaps.
They return to the trip-hop or hip-hop tempo on “Bad From Both Sides” as they add a country flavor to this rap. For some reason the whole thing works, maybe because there’s so much going around that it’s hard to wrap one’s head around it. It’s sort of like a Primus B-side—funky, bizarre but contagious. Unfortunately, “Take a Piece While It Lasts” doesn’t last too long before you get sick of it. Reeking more of ‘70s era radio-friendly Christopher Cross or Supertramp schlock than of anything substantial, this jazzy tune sinks like a stone. Thus far they have also alternated songs, each contributing one before the other chimes in. The acoustic funk-meets-pop of “Making Tyrone Disappear” fares well against the likes of a depressed John Mayer or Jason Mraz. The percussion adds little however. The funky, light and sing-along “You’ll Thank Me for This Someday” resembles Simple Minds in their heyday.
Tan Sleeve try their luck at “Breakfast At Tiffany’s”, the Henry Mancini tune and not that one-hit wonder by Deep Blue Something or other. Oh wait, it was Deep Blue Something! Nonetheless, it’s still a poor hum for over three minutes before mercifully ending. “More Than Best Behind” returns to the sunny, summery Brit-meets-Beach Boy pop that talks about being voted “best behind”. When Tan Sleeve perform songs like this, it is great. But this only makes up3/4 of the album generally. A more focused album might have had better results, but nonetheless it is a good album.