With the recent commercial success of acts like Disclosure and Duke Dumont, the lines between "underground" and "mainstream" dance music have continued to blur at an accelerated rate. At the same time, the critical tones emanating from those who wish to keep the two camps as separate as possible have only become more rash and dismissive. Glow, the debut LP from Tensnake, is bound to elicit some "gone commercial" flack, as the veteran German producer has tapped guest vocalists for more than half of the record's cuts and moved his output to Astralwerks, a subsidiary of Universal Music Group. Still, those familiar with Tensnake's discography are likely aware that he's not someone who's been afraid to dabble in the more carefree ends of house and disco, which helps Glow feel less like a blatant stab at mainstream appeal and more like a natural evolution of his sound. However, that doesn't prevent the LP from coming off as a misfire, one where its creator's ambition seems to have outstripped his abilities.
Glow does reaffirm one thing: Tensnake can write a hook. Virtually every cut here finds a way to burrow its way into the listener's head, whether it's on the back of an inviting chord progression, a sticky melody, a perfectly swung bassline, or—in some cases—all of the above. Given this, Glow is largely a solid endeavor in terms of its songwriting; Tensnake has clearly spent time studying pop structures and has done his best to meld that knowledge with his understanding of club music. In truth, there are moments on this LP where things fit together rather well—moody efforts like "See Right Through You" and "No Relief," are standouts, as is the Nile Rodgers-featuring "Love Sublime."
Still, for all the catchy hooks and easy melodies Glow has to offer, the record as a whole ultimately makes for an exhausting listen. Much of this comes from the fact that Tensnake pulls his LP in too many directions across its 16 tracks. From the opening, SBTRKT-reminiscent instrumental "First Song," Glow jumps to the island disco of the aforementioned "Love Sublime," then to the lackluster indie soul of "Pressure," and onto "Feel of Love," a cut which finds Tensnake, featured producer Jacques Lu Cont, and guest vocalist Jamie Lidell pulling a bit too obviously from Prince's bag of tricks. This type of unfettered direction-changing characterizes the rest of the LP, making the album a disorienting listen, especially when the music is packaged with what is—for the most part—rather frivolous lyrical content that is hard to latch onto in any substantial way. Really, there's just not much that sticks out above the fray (and there's a lot of fray) during the course of Glow. The single thread that does manage to hold the record together a bit is the semi-regular presence of Fiora, who delivers vocals on four tracks, including the coyly clever and gorgeously half-timed "58 BPM," which provides a glimmer of light during the LP's final stretch.
For those who have been fans of Tensnake's previous work, Glow can be particularly frustrating. Listening to the record, it is clear that the German artist has not lost any of his touch as a producer—the songs here still sound sharp and always seem to hint that something great is just around the corner; the trouble is, we never quite get there. In the end, there is little in the way of personality on Glow, as Tensnake's artistic voice has been lost beneath the bevy of guests and his eagerness to show that he can adeptly craft a variety of dance-pop hybrids. While there very well could be a single or two from this record that eventually does break through to join the current wave of club crossover hits, Glow, as an album, does not live up to its promise, regardless of whether it's evaluated in "mainstream" or "underground" terms.