In the two-decade void left by Kevin Shields’ reluctance to release new My Bloody Valentine material, an emerging cache of shoegaze devotees took up the genre’s mantle by releasing albums awash in reverb and unintelligible vocals. In 2001 My Vitriol’s Som Wardner cheekily dubbed this trend “nu-gaze” and so it proliferated until, ten years later, it seemed to be at a saturation point. From Blonde Redhead to Wild Nothing, the Pains of Being Pure at Heart to A Sunny Day in Glasgow, it was practically a competition to see who could most closely replicate Loveless without actually covering it track for track, or at least, who could squeeze the most words into their band name. Against this backdrop, Tamaryn, a West Coast duo named for its mysterious, detached lead singer, released their debut record The Waves in 2010, following it up two years later with Tender New Signs. If Tamaryn’s Technicolor haze was not exactly original, it was at least a well-executed stand-in, and they openly embraced comparisons to Cocteau Twins, Suede, and the Cure, even covering the Jesus and Mary Chain in a side project with Dee Dee of Dum Dum Girls. Until My Bloody Valentine returned with the unexpected release of MBV in 2013, Tamaryn’s records were as close as anyone could get to the real thing.
Now, with the release of Cranekiss, out August 28 via Mexican Summer, Tamaryn has parted ways with Rex John Shelverton, whose effects-laden guitar work defined the direction of those first two LPs. Whether the split with Shelverton occurred due to Tamaryn’s cross-country move from San Francisco to New York or for some other unnamed reason, it necessitated a reinvention of sorts.
“My previous albums very much focused on Rex John Shelverton’s guitar sounds. It was sort of the epicenter of the entire band, and I loved that sound, and we did it for two and a half albums.” But, Tamaryn says, “At this point in my musical output, I felt it was time for a change. And the band is my name, so I just decided to keep it that way, and make it so that into my future I can make as many different kinds of albums as I want with different collaborators.”
Those collaborators for Cranekiss came to the project organically. Tamaryn chose Jorge Elbrecht, frontman of Violens, for production help, because, as she says, “Jorge is a longtime musical hero of mine. I was a big fan of Violens since the early 2000s. When I wanted to reinvent my sound, he was my first choice.” And in the interim since releasing Tender New Signs, Tamaryn had already started working with Shaun Durkan, of fellow Bay-Area nu-gaze purveyors Weekend. “We had been sort of fooling around with demos that were potentially for a side project,” Tamaryn recalls. “When I went into the studio, I invited Shaun in to work with me and we took some of the old demos and brought them to this album.”
While Cranekiss does depart from the lush guitar washes of Tamaryn’s past, it doesn’t stray especially far from the shoegaze palette. Much like Cocteau Twins’ turn to more straightforward vocals and pop-oriented soundscapes on Heaven Or Las Vegas, Cranekiss seeks more accessible ground. “It’s more synthetic than my previous work,” Tamaryn explains. “This album is more processed; even something that may sound like a synth is probably a guitar [with] a lot of processing and pedals and things like that. Basically nothing was off limits.” That sense of abandon shines brightly on lead single “Hands All Over Me,” a wallop of 80’s flourishes like orchestral chimes and down-pitched backing vocals; the blunt sexuality of the song’s lyrics are also a reflection of unabashed liberation. There’s also the ecstatic burst of “Sugar Fix;” as its title implies, the glassy percussion and shimmery riffs are a blissed-out release after plodding, moody “I Won’t Be Found.” Elsewhere, “Softcore” dabbles in post-punk territory, its urgent bassline interlaced with wailing, glossolalic interludes, till both dissolve in the outro’s almost industrial apex.
“Every song is like a world of influences,” Tamaryn says. A recent Spotify playlist of inspirations for the LP ranges from hyper-sensual Madonna cut “Justify My Love” to The Fragile-era Nine Inch Nails, as well as more predictable picks like Slowdive. “I’m not just trying to be a throwback to one particular thing. It’s a synthesis of everything that I love and that’s exactly what I was going for, without sounding too convoluted. I think it still has a very strong emotional message.” Elbrecht and Durkan’s sonic reference points were just as important to include as her own. “We have a very similar musical language between us, but there are some major differences that [they] brought to the table,” she says. “[Cranekiss] really was written in the studio, even though some of the chord progressions and things like that had been from years before. But nothing really became songs until we were there. It was a really great experience, one of the most inspiring creative experiences in any medium that I’ve ever had.”
“We’re in an era of autocrats where everyone has a home studio, and does everything on their own, and I think that that’s a shame,” she laments. “And I think it’s also a big shame that people are constantly defending how much control they have over what they do and what they write because for me, collaboration, when it is done well, it’s like the road to greatness.” In many ways, the reinvention reached by working with new collaborators allowed Tamaryn to take true ownership of her work. “It’s open, it’s less strict, and whatever I want to do live, it’s scalable. It’s really just about making the best album possible and not worrying about it being like a band.”
It may come as a shock to diehard Tamaryn fans, but because Shelverton is no longer playing with her, she won’t be revisiting anything from past albums on her upcoming tour, which kicks off at (le) poisson rouge the day Cranekiss comes out. “It is definitely daunting for me in some ways because I know people are expecting to hear old music. I’m not playing any of the old songs anymore and it is a totally different sound. But, I think: no risks, no reward. With every fan I lose, I’ll gain two more, you know?” she says. “It’s just the choice I decided to make, to push myself creatively and try something different. I’m in no way saying what I’m doing now is better or worse. It’s just what I want to be doing now. I think the album really sounds like a Tamaryn album, it’s just coming from a different place — love it or leave it.”
Tamaryn plays Le Poisson Rouge on August 28.