Photo courtesy of Partisan Records

TENDER Explores Anxieties and the ‘Fear of Falling Asleep’

TENDER create a rudderless sense of melancholy married to truly memorable, hook-filled songs that leave lasting impressions even as the consciousness is enveloped by sleep.

Fear of Falling Asleep
18 January 2018

For some people, the dreaded stillness of the night is something to dread. Rather than granting a refuge from the day to day, it can be the time when the anxieties and neuroses that fill our waking hours are amplified to almost deafening levels. It can be the time when these feelings seem to take a deeper hold. As these dark thoughts dig their nails in, the mind grapples for the sanctuary of sleep, but the constant mental whirring and churning often only open the door further to our blackest thoughts. This is the state that informed the brilliant new album by British duo TENDER.

On the pair’s follow-up to their debut album Modern Addiction the band, made up of James Cullen and Dan Cobb, translate these nocturnal agitations into a starkly personal exploration of Cullen’s often fragile mental state. One which also details a wider search for some reassurance and a quest for the panacea of sleep for the crippling insecurities and neurosis that blot his consciousness. All of this is tied to a thrilling, contemporary mix that incorporates everything from R&B to 1980s alternative dance to art-rock to 1960s baroque pop.

The opener, “Handmade Ego” instantly highlights the duos ability to artfully layer atmospheric electronics and organic instrumentation all enhanced by skillfully used, unconventional samples. From the outset, a banjo sample segues into cruising, late-night synths that frame Cullen’s chilly, androgynous vocals that disclose, voyeuristically personal lines as if taken from his own diary. However, at its core is a shining alt-pop melody that the group clear a path for and in doing so emerge with something close to perfection.

“Bottled Up” begins with warm rushes of synths that suddenly surge before the curtain is pulled away to reveal a grooving bass line. Cobb weaves strands of shimmering, new wave guitars, crisp percussion, and swelling synths that curl around Cullen’s smooth, multi-layered harmonies as he examines the flawed character traits that we all possess. The steady vibration of synths and a click-clacking beat dual with piano chords and a stretched keyboard motif on “No Devotion” as Cullen pleads for a clue that will help him repair a fractured relationship (“Tell me what I’m doing wrong / I’m holding on for you”).

The title track is a smooth, undulating alt-pop song that slowly wraps its icy fingers around your soul. As a glassy, string hook cuts through the cool digital textures, Cullen lays bare his fear of surviving the night (“As I lie here in my bed at night / The only thing that’s truly mine / Is my fear of falling asleep / And not waking up”). Whether his fear is down to his own self-harm or whether he is just frightened of death, is left powerfully ambiguous.

From his fear of surviving the night, Cullen wonders how is going to face the day on “Can’t Show My Face”, as early morning cortisol floods the bloodstream. Over the gentle rise and fall of atmospheric electronics, Cullen narrates his desire to isolate himself from the world before finally finding the strength to face it as the song exits on a wave of lush, hopeful electronics. On the stark “When They Come From You” Cullen’s anxieties seem to manifest themselves into something more carnal as he breathlessly pleads for a lover to “Collapse into my arms and escape with me.”

“Slow Love” quickly locks into an electro-groove, while the ice-cold electro-funk of “Closer Still” rides a spectacularly fluid bassline that builds to a huge electropop chorus with synths exploding like fireworks. It’s the kind of late-night anthem that would unite festival crowds the length and breadth of the country.

The more minimalistic, “Tainted” sees the pair layering atmospheric electronics, mixing in guitar notes and synth runs to stunning effect. Finally, closer “More Or Less” rides a loose guitar riff to a heartbreaking chorus where Cullen questions, “Did you ever really want me?”, as the synths ripple into the distance.

On Fear of Falling Asleep the listener is given an insight into the dimly lit subconscious of James Cullen to find out what makes him tick. It’s an uneasy and often painful journey as we are left with a pervading sense of the existential guilt, loneliness, and lack of direction that dominates his nighttime thoughts. However, this rudderless sense of melancholy is married to truly memorable, hook-filled songs that leave lasting impressions even as the consciousness is enveloped by sleep.

RATING 8 / 10