by Richard Marcus
"The record is the perfect synthesis of electronic music and soul sensibilities. This is next generation music happening right now."
Nightmare In Paradise is the new release from Tyler Holmes on the Oakland California based collective Ratskin Records label. With this record Holmes (pronouns they/them) has crafted something which sounds like the offspring of folk, classic R&B and electronics.
While that might sound like an odd beast, they manage to make it work for on this recording Holmes has managed to take all the best elements of each and create emotionally powerful, unsentimental, and intelligent work.
I've long held onto prejudices against electronic music from the over the top 1970s era of progressive rock. Annoying groups filled the soundscape with meandering, soulless, and fucking boring synthesizer solos. So to hear music where electronic keyboards and treated instruments play a major role able to create such strong, real, emotions was wonderful.
A good part of the reason is Holmes' incredibly soulful voice and the way they utilize it. Reminiscent of Ottis Redding or Marvin Gaye, their range of expression and vocal range is even better than their predecessors, for they aren't limited to one style of music. Listening to Holmes you can imagine them being capable of singing in almost any format. They seem to be able to switch between wistful longing to strong declarative statements without missing a beat. Their voice isn't just for singing its for communicating as well.
Like other gifted vocalists they can utilize it as another musical instrument. Holmes expresses ideas, thoughts, and emotions with their lyrics, but listen to how it works within the context of the music. Like an opera singer their voice ebbs and flows with the tide of sound created for each song.
Holmes is a very personal writer. Either talking directly to the listener to try and recreate an experience or talking about themself, they have created a very intimate album. Don't be alarmed or scared off by that - they are far too intelligent and creative for self-indulgence - but be prepared for an emotional roller coaster.
There is also quiet moments of space, as into the world of electronics an acoustic guitar wanders. This isn't just the, 'I have a sensitive side' that hard rockers or the prog bands of old would do by inserting one acoustic track on an album, this is an organic integration of instruments.The really impressive part of all this is how matter of fact it sounds. Not once do you have the impression the music was created in this manner for any other reason than it served the needs of a particular song.
And if you haven't already gotten the point, it comes from a Queer perspective. Lines like "If I could be the way you want/I wouldn't be myself at all/I'll never be the girl you knew/Oh no not her/Oh no not me/I'll never be what you want me to be/oh no not that oh you won't see" from the track "The Girl You Knew" are only one clue that Holmes writes from a perspective not seen enough in popular music.
Nightmare in Paradise, refers to a traumatic experience Holmes experienced in Puerto Rico. It is a beautiful and remarkable album, the perfect synthesis of electronic music and soul sensibilities. This is next generation music happening right now.
Listen to 'Nightmare in Paradise' here at Bandcamp
Richard Marcus contributes to Blog Critics as well as editing their books section. He is also a monthly contributor to Qantara. He currently lives with his musician/poet/painter wife and two incredibly demanding cats in Kingston Ontario, Canada.