In the last decade or so, Tamaryn has a collection of albums that stands up to anyone, with a clear progression in her sound and artistic persona, from the immersive shoegaze of her debut The Waves to the synth-pop vision of Cranekiss. While a lot of artists can roughly emulate the sound of classic goth/shoegaze bands like Cocteau Twins, Tamaryn understands what makes this genre actually appeal to listeners, and she consistently delivers memorable songs that have a heightened sense of drama and emotion. A lot of this is due to her singing voice, which has increasingly been the focus of her music and particularly takes center stage on her latest album, Dreaming the Dark.
The arrangements on this album are more sparse than her previous work, which moves it slightly out of the shoegaze realm and more into 80s-style synth pop. The downside of this approach is it loses some of the feeling of getting totally lost in the sound like I still do listening to The Waves, but it also feels like a confident move forward for Tamaryn, who more directly owns these songs rather than getting lost in the production. The full range of her voice is heard on stand-out tracks like “Angels of Sweat” and “Terrified,” as well as her improved lyrics, which serve a more important role in this less noisy style.
While Tamaryn’s music has always been expressive, Dreaming the Dark feels like the closest listeners have come to actually getting to know the artist behind the sounds. “You’re Adored” has a more personal touch, with lyrics written about her dog, while the minimalist “Fits of Rage” shows a more aggressive side of her that is a departure from dreamy pop. While it’s hard to pull obvious meanings out of the songs by just reading the lyrics, the songs are performed in a way where they are obviously meaningful.
It is hard not to get Kate Bush vibes listening to this, especially “Victim Complex” which reminds me of “Waking the Witch” from Hounds of Love. And like Bush, Tamaryn’s music is appealing because it has these fantastical, ethereal qualities, but is still rooted in reality. It’s how Dreaming the Dark works as both escapist pop and as a relatable portrayal of an artist’s feelings and struggles.
In a post last year, I mentioned how My Bloody Valentine’s “Loomer” sounds exactly the way I want all music to sound due to its contrast of heavy guitars and light, feminine vocals. This playlist is a collection of songs that feel similarly to me and are the basis of my theory that “Loomer” spawned its own micro-genre of music that falls somewhere between shoegaze and metal. The songs range from artists that are doing essentially My Bloody Valentine tributes (Fleeting Joys) to bands who push the principles in “Loomer” as far as possible to explore more adventurous musical ground (metal groups like SubRosa and True Widow).
For most of music’s history, loud guitar noise has been strongly associated with machismo and was considered ugly or abrasive. I love this style of music because it twists those preconceptions with the vocals, resulting in songs that have fascinating dualities: they are ugly and beautiful, strong and fragile, masculine and feminine. These themes all get blended together in the music and start to blur these arbitrary gender lines. (I just read The Left Hand of Darkness if you can’t tell.)
On a less academic level, listening to these songs always makes me think of the apocalypse. The image the sound creates in my head is of a lone voice singing while the world crumbles around them.
Tamaryn’s first two albums often had moments of genius (“Love Fade,” “Heavenly Bodies”), but sometimes could feel one-note. Her third album, Cranekiss, is a big step forward because it feels like a much more complete album and vision from the singer, who collaborated with Weekend’s Shaun Durkan to make a more pop-influenced record.
Which isn’t to say Cranekiss is pop, exactly. It takes Tamaryn’s established shoegaze sound and adds a layer of sheen and brightness to it, resulting in songs that are more danceable than her previous efforts and recall some of the more upbeat moments of Cocteau Twins. The layers of sound and additional percussion give Cranekiss a wintry, romantic feeling, which is reminiscent of other bands but still feels like its own.
What I’ve always liked about Tamaryn — and especially on this album — is that it’s shoegaze-style music that is built around the singer, who in other similar bands often takes a backseat to the noise. While Cranekiss has many musical upgrades, they’re all done in service to her vocals, which shine even more with the slightly new direction. Tamaryn’s wide range and natural tone lends itself to dramatic songs, and Cranekiss makes good use of that talent with its lush sound.