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 so get over yourself) 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 work. In fact more than 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 horrible, meandering, soulless, and fucking boring synthesizer solos. Even a good drug habit couldn’t make them listenable.
So to hear music where electronic keyboards and treated instruments play a major role able to create such strong, real, emotions was wonderful. Now, a good part of the reason is Holmes’ incredibly soulful voice and the way they utilize it.
Think of any of the greats from the past; Ottis Redding or Marvin Gaye, and you’ll have a good idea of what I’m talking about. However, Holmes is even more than that. Their range of expression, and vocal range for that matter, 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. Yes Holmes expresses ideas, thoughts, and emotions with his lyrics and they are important to their work, 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 also surprises with their music. For they make quiet moments of space as into the world of electronics an acoustic guitar wanders. This isn’t just the, ‘I have a sensitive side’, BS 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.
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.
Oh, and if you haven’t already gotten the point, be prepared for it 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, the title refers to a traumatic experience Holmes experienced in Puerto Rico, is a beautiful and remarkable album. It is the perfect synthesis of electronic music and soul sensibilities. This is next generation music happening right now.