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Tanlines, 'Outer Banks'

When a long-dormant movie star pops up in a head-turning comeback role, their onscreen performance comes to us entwined with a lot of offscreen metatext, and as human beings it's a fool's errand to pretend we can pull them far enough apart to consider them on their own terms. In the same way, if you're among those who have known the muted joy of modestly chair-dancing to "All of Me" or "Pieces" while clearing your Outlook inbox, there's no shame in feeling a full-body flutter at the news of synthpop duo Tanlines' return before you've heard a single note. But trust us — its new song really is quite good.

Eight years after the last proper album by Eric Emm and Jesse Cohen, and five years after a surprise children's EP put a ring on their respective transitions from indie-rock hustle to stay-at-home parenthood, "Outer Banks" exudes a clear-eyed awareness of the sometimes irreconcilable differences between those lifestyles. There is heavy piano undergirding the familiar synth pulses and gated drums, some wistful delay bending the understated guitar leads into the shape of a weary smile. As a vocalist, Emm has grown into the reflective middle-aged crooner he seemed to be channeling a decade ago, singing as if from a spotlit stool at his neighborhood bar while the regulars shuffle around him in silent tableau. At the center of the track is a classic Tanlines hook — "How can we coexist / With perfection" — whose ambiguous punctuation leaves it to the listener whether to hear that prompt only as a question to ponder, or as an answer in itself.

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