I’ve only recently become acquainted with innovative artist Tyler Holmes, but I have fast fallen in love with their poignant, affecting and utterly unique sweeping electronic soundscapes. Holmes (They/Them) is a singer-songwriter, visual and performance artist who uses music as a therapeutic device. Coming from a turbulent and traumatic ‘cult-like’ early life, they have spent a lifetime crafting their own Black, Queer narrative by pushing the limits of their imagination, Holmes envisions themselves as the imaginary child of Björk and Tricky, using a surrealist lens on a wide variety of genres, often blending diaristic narratives with dark, dream-like whimsy. Autobiographical and absurd, their writing is alluring and uncomfortable. Both brutal and beautiful, bringing the audience into a shared space of healing and catharsis. They perform with a constantly changing electro-acoustic arrangement, always finding new ways to showcase an intimate horror.
Ahead of the release of their upcoming new album ‘Nightmare In Paradise’ via Ratskin Records next month, we spoke to Tyler about the five albums that mean the most to them. Check out their choices below, and watch their latest video for single ‘Nothing’ at the end of this article. You can also listen to their recent rendition of SOPHIE’s ‘BIPP’ over on bandcamp now.
Mariah Carey – Butterfly
Butterfly was a departure for Mariah. A record that embraced Hip Hop and Mariah as a sexual and sorrowful entity, which I have always related to. I have always been obsessed with Mariah and I’ve been singing her songs for as long as I can remember. This was the first album that I would listen to all the way through, over and over and over. There is a real variety to the record and I can now see this as the first in a series of emotional breakdown albums (this one even has a song called ‘Breakdown’ which is unbelievably beautiful and rich and has the amazing Bone Thugs N Harmony guesting). The through-line through this quite varied record is sadness, longing and identity struggle; all running themes in my life and music as well. My favourite track is ‘Outside’ – about being a weirdo, just singing the melody makes me cry.
The Knife – Silent Shout: An Audiovisual Experience – Live In Gothenburg
Reinvention is something that always turns me on. This album was the electronic equivalent to dying your hair black and doing acoustic renditions of your record. The Knife was this mysterious band back in the early internet days and Gothenburg showcased them reborn in a syrupy goth trance inducing void that was even more mysterious than they had been. It was as if they had this colourful image and they thought “let’s give them even less information and appear in a black abyss as ghostly floating lights…” The songs are darker, gothic, stark and beautiful. Dance music made for crying and being a freak to maybe more so than dancing. I love a singer who can be different characters and Karin plays a whole cast on this record and a cast of ghouls, sea monsters, aliens and demons. She is so otherworldly, possessed and perfect. My favourite track is ‘Kino’, which I covered a long time ago. They took an old track and brought it back through the Pet Cemetery. The mourning in that song will haunt me forever.
Tricky – Pre Millenium Tension
A theme of coming back darker, and more vulnerable emerges. While Tricky’s first record was murky and muddy,Pre Millennium is obsidian. A dark smoke filled room. I love how Tricky always has two singers of varying genders singing the same lyrics at the same time creating one genderless or many gendered being. The opening song ‘Vent’ talking about someone hiding their lover’s medicine to watch them suffer and need them speaks volumes about the album in front of the listener. Very much about codependency, dark urges, self destruction. The gnarling, repeating loops grind nightmares into your head like noogies. The reimagining of ‘Bad Dreams’ by Chill Rob G gives the song a chilling, fever dream realness that is necessary and sadly timeless.
Astrud Gilberto & Walter Wanderley – A Certain Smile, A Certain Sadness
I listened to this album on repeat while writing my new record. It’s vintage goth. Astrud Gilberto, best known for the timeless hit ‘The Girl From Ipanema’, is practically motionless. Her stoic and serious performance even over more dance oriented tracks like ‘Nega do Cabelo Duro’ really sets the tone without beating the listener over the head. There is a bittersweet breeze blowing through every song on an album that has some rather peppy tempos and almost chipper organ lines. The theme of the album is dark, not quite hopeless but almost. The opener ‘A Certain Smile’ sets the tone that, like love, peace of mind and temperament are cyclical. “That certain smile to haunt your heart again.” OUCH. ‘Smile’ is followed by ‘A Certain Sadness’ (JOKES!!!) that lays the cards on the table and directly discusses unrequited love, longing and depression. To me it is so interesting and inspiring to hear these jazz chords that have over time become associated with elevator music here set to such depressive and moody themes. Even the fast songs contain some really ‘ugly’ chords and organ solos that hint at a jazzy, almost punk antagonism that alongside the subject matter and vocal delivery make me really see Bossa Nova as a precursor to New Wave music (Bossa Nova means ‘New Trend’ or ‘New Wave’ after all.) ‘Tristeza’ and ‘So Nice’ are absolutely brilliant, tongue in cheek songs that in a heavy-lidded tone hint at a sunny life in a bitchy way that seem to me as sarcastic as they are dreamy.
Björk – Post
Choosing a Björk album to discuss is really difficult but this is probably the singular record that has influenced me the most. Eleven songs that are all different genres and on different planets. This record has such anger, such venom, such sadness and such spacious, calm, quietness. It is truly a rollercoaster masterpiece. It calls to mind Goldie Hawn’s famous line (from First Wives Club) about emotions “I’m an actress! I have all of them!” That’s what Björk showcases here; every emotion, texture, and sound in her body at the time and it is resplendent. ‘I Miss You’ is one of the best and most original takes on the standard longing pop song, with horn freak-outs, screaming, and a panic attack about “cuddles” for a bridge. The song sounds like a cartoon zoo where the animals train the humans just like the surrealist nightmare of a music video that is as amazing as the song. The album features one of my favourite songs ever; ‘Enjoy’, where mother weaves a bizarre love triangle over a beat made by one of her boyfriends at the time and one of my biggest inspirations: Tricky. The intimate tabloid lyrics are leaked over a beat that sounds like a jungle full of haunted wildlife that know your secrets and want to punish you with electrical torture. It’s one of the most titillating experiences you can have as a listener. An album that is full of so much motion and noise ends with the purely ambient ‘Headphones’. It’s built on barely there electronic bass notes and Miss Björk whispering about falling asleep to a transformative tape! I had this on cassette as a kid and it was a meta experience, this is one goal I have definitely taken from Mother. Her goal was to give others the same transcendental experience that music gave her, passing on the gift. Post is one of her greatest gifts.
Massive thanks to Tyler for sharing such beautiful words about their favourite albums!
Nightmare In Paradise, the upcoming album from Tyler Holmes, is set for release 26th March via Ratskin Records. Pre-order here. And watch the poignant video for ‘Nothing’ below: