Thursday, October 11, 2012

review: tamaryn- 'tender new signs'

I’m not sure what to write about this record. It’s been held out in front of me for months and months now and now is finally here. I’ve been enjoying the way that Tamaryn have been posting photographs and lyrics from the songs since sometime in August (I think—it’s all a bit fuzzy now). I was hoping that the hazy aesthetic of the pictures would be indicative of what the album would sound like. Once opening track ‘I’m Gone’ was finally set loose this appeared to be the case. Next came the video for similarly woozy and chunky ‘Heavenly Bodies’ which only seemed to underscore this fact. By then I was practically foaming at the mouth and pre-ordered the LP in the hopes that I was quick enough to snag one of the 50 with the postcard set. So few bands bother with much of an aesthetic these days. Wild Nothing comes to mind with their six different covers for the die-cut window sleeve of 'Nocturne.' It’s clear that Tamaryn are going for an aesthetic consistency that 4AD always made a priority.

Musically ‘Tender New Signs’ is similar to 2010’s ‘The Waves’—there is a lot of woozy, druggy, delayed texture and a lot of floating vocals. The production on ‘Tender New Signs’ is nothing short of breathtaking, though. Where ‘The Waves’ sounded thin at times this record is full-bodied and massive. It does a great job of capturing what they sound like live, which is basically overwhelming and widescreened pure sound from all sides. It has an analog peakiness to it which can’t help but melt my heart. The songwriting has progressed quite a bit as well. Tamaryn's beautiful lyrics are easy to tune out or concentrate on—the choice is up to you (which isn’t always the case). There are several tracks that are nothing short of quaking burners—smoke coming out of the grooves as the needle passes over them kind of stuff. The middle section of the album is made up of these tracks and they are much stronger and successful than the more driving numbers on ‘The Waves.’ ‘The Garden,’ for example, sounds almost anthemic. There are, of course, dreamier tracks as well. ‘No Exits’ sets the bar for most of them and closing track ‘Violets in a Pool’ is one their best.

What’s most intriguing to me about their particular production style is the fact that guitarist Rex Shelverton uses minimal instrumentation in order to get a big, high-impact sound without sacrificing clarity or having to reign in the overdrive. While he does use a decent amount of delay on his parts, it’s mainly used as a thickener rather than a textural crutch. It enhances rather than detracts and since he is able to exert this type of control over it a great deal of the meaty sound can be attributed to attack rather than a reliance on affected tones to get unique sounds. The bass and the drums fill in the lower register and everything is given a sufficient amount of space so that everything sounds clear and nothing is buried. This is how Tamaryn’s vocals can float effortlessly over the top in an ambient haze and still maintain an authoritative prescence. It’s worth noting for its ingenuity as most bands mining a similar dreamy sound get mired in layering and effects which often end up causing something to get buried—in most cases decent drum sounds are sacrificed in favor of textural fullness. Not here, though, which is what makes this record sound so vibrant. They’ve pulled off quite a sonic achievement here as well as an album of solid songs that surpasses the considerable shadow cast by their debut.

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