Transfigurations

With The Waves, Tamaryn introduces a powerful persona to the panorama of shoegaze

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"To go into something that loud and overwhelming and do something completely restrained -- that was the real challenge"
GUARDIAN PHOTO BY MATTHEW REAMER

arts@sfbg.com

MUSIC/THE NEW SHOEGAZE The Waves. The title of the first album by Tamaryn is big and elemental. It's also dramatic and literary, invoking the writing and the death of Virginia Woolf and evoking the ocean's fatal pull in a classic Romantic sense. Tamaryn's music is all of these things.

The vast, vague, cacophonous yet harmonic sound that Melody Maker deemed shoegaze back in the late 1980s has made a strong return in recent years, but Tamaryn — comprised of Tamaryn and producer-instrumentalist Rex John Shelverton — distinguishes itself from the pack through epic scope and high fidelity of production, and most of all, through sheer force of presence. Shoegaze so often buried rock's persona in noise's capacity for jouissance that the sound became (and remains) a too-easy way to mask a lack of musicality and personality. Not so on The Waves. You'd be hard-pressed to find a more confidently unique rock album this year. On "Haze Interior" and "Dawning," the result is literally awesome.

Tamaryn lives in the Bay Area, but I have to go through a publicity company to arrange an interview, and our conversation takes place over the phone, on a hot afternoon, after she's found a place to park her car in the East Bay. This roundabout route to getting in touch with the lady herself is fitting, since much of The Waves' tension generates from the mysterious way in which Tamaryn moves through the huge and dense sounds that Shelverton generates. "To go into something that loud and overwhelming and do something completely restrained — that was the real challenge," she says, after sizing up my own voice as that of a young person. "You play music like that in a practice space and you as a singer don't hear a note coming from your voice. You have to go from muscle memory. It's about finding your place in the sound."

It's easy to connect with Tamaryn on the subject of music, because her appreciation of it is as immense and intense as the album she's made. When I mention that aspects of The Waves remind me in a flattering way of the '90s group Curve, she's appreciative. "The British [shoegaze] bands were all so specific and very restrained," she says. "Bands like Curve were more in your face. Curve is what Garbage wanted to be — you can see the direct line."

Tamaryn's lyrics, guiding the listener through deep oceanic contours, ranging from choral winters to coral flowers, possess a strong sensory quality. She agrees. "Sensory is a perfect way to describe it," she says. I wrote the lyrics in response to my experience of the music — my experience of being part of the song. There are performers that realize they are not playing an instrument — it's almost like they are a participant, a part of the audience that is moved by the music to respond and perform. Ian Svenonius of the Make-Up had another band where he'd walk onstage and go, 'I like this music,' and start to be inspired. I always thought that was really cool."

Without a doubt, The Waves is a San Francisco album, with lyrics written at Fort Funston, and music by a surfer — Shelverton — from Half Moon Bay. The album's final track, "Mild Confusion," draws from notes on a psychiatric patient that Tamaryn came across during a day job, and it brings the more classical doom-laden aspects of the opening title track to a specific, realistic modern realm. "It's very extreme here, with water on three sides, and it can be totally inspiring," Tamaryn says, amid talk of the Golden Gate Bridge's beauty and tragic lure. "If you come to San Francisco with plans to destroy yourself, it will let you. But if you come self-contained, with a strong personal or creative identity, you can use the energy of the city to inspire you."

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