Imagine this is a quiz show right now and you’ve been asked to name a band when given the following description: They’re from France, they formed in the 90s, they sing in English, and make synth-based pop-rock songs. At this point in time, plenty of us with a solid knowledge of music would probably say Phoenix was the band being described, mostly because they both fit the description and are the most popular choice given their worldwide success in the last year and a half. There is another band that falls perfectly under that very small umbrella too, and they’ve actually been around longer. Tahiti 80 is their name, and if you’ve not yet heard of them let this be a grand introduction to their world. Since the mid-90s, they’ve released four full-length albums and a whole bunch of EPs, most of them providing a smart mix of 60s pop, 80s pop, and a small bit of soul for flavor. It’s been largely fun, sunshine-inspired stuff that’s almost just as great as Phoenix’s candy-coated sugar rushes they call songs. As they’re working hard on finishing up their fifth studio album titled “The Past, The Present & The Possible” for a February release, Tahiti 80 had a few bullets already waiting in the chamber to help fans pass the time until then. The “Solitary Bizness” EP was released a couple weeks ago, and it serves as a surprisingly strong set of songs that sum up not only where the band has been, but hints at where they might be going in the future.
The EP’s title track is probably going to wind up on the new album, as two versions of the song serve as bookends at the start and finish. Kicking things off is the “single edit” version, which is fun and funky the way most great Tahiti 80 songs are. There’s some serious bass at the heart of the melody, but various percussive elements mixed with some spiky keyboards build off that basic structure into a frenzy as the chorus slams you again and again with beautiful vocal harmonies. The “short version” of “Crack Up” has a little bit of a lighter feel to it, and probably the best thing about this song are the kitchen sink’s worth of percussion they use. Cowbell, wood blocks, live drums, drum machines and a host of other beats create extra spice in this track that lives up to its name by falling to pieces both vocally and instrumentally before exploding into a huge dance party that no doubt will be extended for the non-“short version” of the song. On the more experimental side of things, “A Night In the City” has a sing-songy spoken word vocal on the verses and a normally sung chorus. The main point of this track seems to be the lyrics, as they do tell a story about one man’s crazy evening in Paris on a date with a girl where they go dancing and to a party and things get a bit “wild”. Interesting stuff, but it is the sort of thing you don’t do more than a couple times at most and are smart to reserve it for an EP such as this one. Bouncy electro-pop is what “Keys to the City” has to offer, and while it starts out on the right foot, the song winds up being not very memorable. Perhaps it’s that there’s little to no differentiation instrumentally between the verses and the chorus, so the song feels rather static despite having a good beat. For fans of Tahiti 80’s oldest material, “Cool Down” is very lovely. For the complete lack of guitars virtually everywhere else on the EP, that this song starts with a crisply strummed acoustic guitar is surprising but also nice. Of course after the first verse a melodica, synths and other electronic elements all begin popping up until they eventually drown out the guitar altogether for a brief period. As things break down at the end though, those things slowly drift away until we’re left with just some skittering beats and a touch of melodica. Finally, “Solitary Bizness” returns with a quick 2 minute “folk version” that’s anchored by a lone acoustic guitar with just a touch of assistance from an electric guitar at certain moments. Breaking the song down to its barest bones is a nice and completely different way to view it, focusing more on the melody and strong vocal performances.
Those already familiar with Tahiti 80 can look at the “Solitary Bizness” EP as another healthy addition to their already-great collection of music. At six tracks, not every one is a winner, but there’s a certain admiration that goes along with some of the things the band tries here. The first two tracks feel a lot like the Tahiti 80 most people love, and there’s a very good chance both those songs will appear on the band’s upcoming album in a slightly different form. The midsection has its issues, but “A Night In the City” fares best as an area they haven’t really explored sonically before. The best marriage of old school and new school comes courtesy of “Cool Down”, and though it may not have the silly throwback pop energy of their best work, it opens up an interesting can of worms that could serve as conceptual fodder for the next record in a really good sort of way. It’ll be another couple months before “The Past, The Present & The Possible” arrives for everyone to consume, but thanks in large part to this EP, we have good reason to be excited. Now if only the band could make a Phoenix-like imprint on America, everything would be right as rain.