Tamaryn - Tender New Signs

There's something to be said for control, especially when you're making a full length record. In the case of Tamaryn's new release Tender New Signs, there is a very noticeable amount of deliberate choices made, adding up to a pleasant and varied experience for the listener.

For the record, I have not heard the first album from the band, so most of my experiences with it will not be informed by a comparison to previous work (aside from seeing them live in Montreal earlier in the fall). Also, for context, my most recent listen and the writing of this review is taking place in a luxury cabin in the woods. It is mid day, the snow is gently falling outside and I have not been this relaxed in months...

Let's move on, shall we?

The record (like any good short story) seems to start in the middle and then spend the rest of the time filling in the beginning and end. The opener, "I'm Gone" plucks away with reverb-infused guitar, and waits for you to be ready before it takes off, maintaining the speed limit on the road at all times. Tamaryn's breathy vocals throughout the album invoke early '90s Madonna (before she went Electronica Religious Fad British Mom on the world). The guitar sounds on the record really push the notion of control the furthest with not a trace of feedback or crunch to be found. There are a lot of bent notes played in a long hallway here, and it sounds absolutely dreamy. The bass and drums are holding things down admirably, keeping it all in mid tempo, playing just loud enough in the mix; never standing out, but in a good way.

The record's most enjoyable use of control is in the sequencing. The songs are laid out in the perfect way for the listener to enjoy, with some nice uses of changing pace. The transition from "No Exits" (sleep) to "Prizma" (the ensuing dream) to "The Garden" (the next morning) stands out in my mind as a shining example of how well this story is being told. It's also the middle of the album/story, where sometimes a record loses you if they've front-loaded all of their strongest songs at the beginning. And Tender New Signs does start strong, making you want more of their shoegaze from start to finish. Some songs evoke Spaghetti Western vibes ("While You're Sleeping, I'm Dreaming"), while others transport you to the dramatic moments in a John Hughes movie ("Heavenly Bodies" sounds like a depressed "Don't You Forget About Me" by Simple Minds—if they actually DID forget about them). The ending song "Violet's in a Pool" plays us off with a certain measure of sober minor key reflection with the full admission: "This is it. The sound is moving in." You can hear the guitar finally start to scream, finally unchained just as the song (and the album itself) is fading to black. It's all very well directed and leaves you wanting for more and in that way it is perfect.

All that to say, it does feel a bit safe and too controlled at times, but the sum of all of the parts here are very strong and worth your time. Like some of my favourite albums, this one is short at nine tracks and just above 40 minutes in length. Anyone out there putting together an album of their own should listen to this, if for no other reason, to make notes on how to put all of the pieces together. When I got to meet Tamaryn herself after they finished playing that night in Montreal, she remarked that she was nervous about playing without their own live sound engineer. They sounded great, but I guess there is something to be said for control. 

-- Denis A. hosts Dirty Work, Thursdays 4-6 PM on CJLO