Distortion, reverb and tremolo comprise an indie rock cocktail akin to a gin and tonic — the listener knows exactly what he or she is getting, and it’s always going to be good, just as long as none of these simple ingredients is flat or overripe. But they also don’t necessarily make for a particularly exciting album either, at least not entirely on their own. For more than 20 years, we’ve been waiting for a follow-up to Loveless, and in lieu of My Bloody Valentine doing it themselves, plenty of other acts have offered up their own substitute, many of which have actually been quite stunning. Yet the shoegazer market has been oversaturated to the point where one is compelled to ask whether one more dreamy collection of Jazzmaster float is really justified.
San Francisco duo Tamaryn, named for their singer, don’t seem all that concerned about whether the world needs another shoegaze album, but to their credit, they’re not trying to make another Loveless. On second album Tender New Signs, Tamaryn certainly borrow a little bit of texture from Kevin Shields’ densely layered templates, but this is a much more graceful, sedate affair. Call it splitting hairs if you must, but Tender New Signs is at times more dream pop than shoegaze, its slow-moving sheets of effects often giving more of an otherworldly effect than a noisy or viscous Boss-pedal soup. And to a certain degree, this sleepier, seductive sound is what makes this album a refreshing break from the many overwhelming attempts to live up to MBV glory.
Guitars crash, shudder and squeal on the album’s first track, “I’m Gone,” though for how much is going on here, it’s more lullaby than rocker, singer Tamaryn’s vocals lulling the listener into a state of serenity. There’s an almost surf-rock vibe to the spacey “When You’re Sleeping, I’m Dreaming,” which creates almost as much sound from echo and sustain as it does from the notes being plucked. And “The Garden” is one of the few tracks in which the group turns out something that sort of rocks. It’s not an ear-splitter on par with A Place to Bury Strangers’ most antagonistic firestorms, but it’s a heavy, heaving force of energy all the same. And still, Tamaryn’s voice isn’t aggressive or commanding so much as it is hypnotic. There’s a lot going on throughout Tender New Signs, but it’s seemingly put together from fairly straightforward means, and an earnest attempt to maximize output from a minimum of sources. Unpacking the details of Tender New Signs doesn’t require much effort; giving oneself to its beautifully blurry soundscapes takes even less.
Jeff Terich is the founder and editor of Treble. He's been writing about music for 20 years and has been published at American Songwriter, Bandcamp Daily, Reverb, Spin, Stereogum, uDiscoverMusic, VinylMePlease and some others that he's forgetting right now. He's still not tired of it.