Tamaryn is reinventing herself, or at least she’s trying. “I call Brett Anderson from Suede my spirit animal,” Tamaryn’s eponymous frontwoman told Amber Bravo of Fader with regard to her playlist for their Fader Mix series. Even though she said in another interview at MoMA PS1 last year, “People compare us to My Bloody Valentine, the Cure, the Cocteau Twins. Those are my favorite bands so it’s a huge compliment,” she eschewed the obvious influences this time around in favor of Clan of Xymox, John Cale, and Care, and Tender New Signs immediately puts distance between the band– whose instrumental half is provided by Tamaryn’s longtime collaborator, producer, and guitarist Rex John Shelverton– and the listener.
On their first record, 2010’s The Waves, the title track began with “Come down to the surface” as Shelverton’s whammy bar undulated with an almost sexual tension against Tamaryn’s warm, inviting siren song. Tender‘s “I’m Gone”, on the other hand, lowers the temperature to crisply kicked drums and mere suggestions of reverb. Tamaryn taunts, “I’m gone/ Tell me when/ I’m going” in a voice alternating disarmingly between Harriet Wheeler’s saccharine coos and Victoria Legrand’s weathered incantations. This time, she demands the listener take note of her departure instead of go somewhere with her. Tamaryn sound different, further away than the abrasive ardor of their first album.
This studied separation extends to Shelverton, who finds that “getting in the studio and taking things apart to adjust the subtleties of their sonics” has been one of the biggest influences on Tamaryn’s work, according to Dawning. And Tender New Signs‘ songs tend to break open along the quavering lines from Shelverton’s 1964 Gibson: on “Afterlight”, her voice soars above the murmuring bass and picked chords that politely retreat into the background for the chorus, accentuating with restraint as opposed to volume. Exquisite album closer “Violet’s in a Pool” pulses with the barely discernible yet inexorable march of a tambourine, followed by Shelverton’s busted fade-outs. The tails of reverb still fall into each other, but it sounds mathematically arranged, like colliding ripples in a pond. “This is it,” Tamaryn sings. “The sound is moving in.”
It’s up to her to bring these elements together under her conceptual framework, which she does magnificently. As with most grand gestures, there are a few trip-ups– namely, the distractingly mixed metaphors such as “She’s a fool/ But time’s a thief”– but the grander ambitions of songs in which those appear remain undaunted. Tamaryn evokes Dum Dum Girls’ Dee Dee (also her partner in the short-lived side project Les Demoniaques, which appropriately covered the Jesus and Mary Chain) on “Heavenly Bodies” which revolves higher and higher until resolving itself in a single, beatific note; and “While You’re Sleeping, I’m Dreaming” rattles with the unholy matrimony of “Riders on the Storm” and Bauhaus.
Tender New Signs‘ slowly melting core still owes a sizable debt to The Waves. Stripped of the latter’s layers, however, they reveal the band’s vulnerability as they move forward. Nothing really happens in “No Exits”, but nothing needs to: “New nature/ No nature/ Like a gun/ I’ve been holding on,” Tamaryn admits, alone except for Shelverton’s dripping guitars. They follow with “Prizma”, the album’s lightest track. It’s almost childlike in its simplicity, written in Dr. Seuss colors and thrumming with the muted pop of other relatively young bands like Papercuts or Crystal Stilts. These, along with “Garden”‘s picket fences of noise and the meandering “Transcendent Blue”, provide a welcome counterweight to the album’s painfully thoughtful beginning and end.
Tamaryn are still steeped in their own personal brand of shoegaze, but now it’s an aesthetic choice they made as opposed to a label they were tagged with. She may as well have been talking about her new album when she said of her Fader mix, “It’s made from me to one person, whoever that one person might be.” Tender New Signs makes the listener work a little harder within Tamaryn’s framework, but it rewards as much, if not more, than the walls of noise threatening to hem them in just a few years ago.
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