I hate that trauma can inspire such beautiful creations, but I love that, for many, art and music can be a processing bridge to navigate toward healing. Tyler Holmes’ stunning new album is a mirror reflecting tenderness and forgiveness while masking pain and the darkness that follows. Their journey inward and defiance in the face of that darkness is so deeply moving that when they emerge on the other side exalted.
Holmes describes the softness of Nightmare in Paradise as “…it is so because I needed to tell the story that way to make it palatable to process for myself. I needed to channel brutality through a healing lens to be able to recount the experience.” In the bubbling arpeggios and violins underpinning their layered vocals on “To Accept,” the edges are sanded off. Lush instrumentation is a cradle, holding space for Holmes to weave soothing, hypnotic melodies drenched in a despondent undercurrent. The brightness of the music is the mask; Holmes’ words are the treatment.
Throughout Nightmare in Paradise, Tyler Holmes grows in stature. Their words are missiles, each one hitting a new target and knocking down another wall holding them back. “Tried to write a happy song, it comes out wrong. There’s nothing that I can’t sour for you,” they spit on “Hold Me Ghost,” a combative, driving anthem. Like so much of Nightmare in Paradise, there is a ruthless determination that is a beacon; Holmes pushes forward in the face of everything thrown at them, knowing their survival lies on the other side of the morass.
Most striking, though, is that Tyler Holmes’ odyssey on Nightmare in Paradise not only reaches the end of their own disparate rainbow, but as listeners, we are all invited into the prism too. This album is a triumph of not just innate talent and songwriting ability, but of emotional depth, change, and transcendence. Both opening and closing tracks – “Heart Token” and “Canvas” – are bookend counterpoints to this beautiful album. Acoustic guitars with minimal accompaniment give Holmes the firm ground to stand on and show fragility and their innate humanness.
The word I keep returning to when I think about Nightmare in Paradise is ‘real.’ This is an album borne from pain and hurt, but an album that lives in the healing moments we somehow find against tall odds. To craft a record that, at its core, is difficult and heartbreaking, yet is so sonically rich and beautiful that I can listen to it over-and-over is astounding. Tyler Holmes is an absolute force and there’s no limits to what they can create and achieve. Nightmare in Paradise is among the year’s best so far and is an album for all of us. Highest recommendation.