In his essay “Dream Kitsch,” a treatise on the commercialization of the subconscious, Walter Benjamin wrote, “No one really dreams any longer of the Blue Flower.” His lamentation on the surrender of Romanticism to capitalism looms large in the aesthetics of Ziemba, the New York and El Paso-based artist whose work occupies the space between dream and reality. Like the Romantics and their sublime aesthetics, Ziemba’s latest record True Romantic traffics in sentimentality, vulnerability, and the terrifying extremes of being in love.
Though there is no accompanying scent or fashion show for True Romantic, as Ziemba has done for previous releases, True Romantic compensates with its concept, a multi-faceted exploration of love songs throughout popular music’s history: there’s the Roy Orbison-indebted rockabilly of “Bad Love,” the soft rock electric piano of “You Feel Like Paradise,” and the saxophone-driven opulence of “Brazil.”
But through the stylistic shifts, from krautrock (“Harbor Me”) to breezy yacht rock (“Casket and Cradle”), Ziemba’s velvety vocals serve as a honeyed homing beacon. Her voice is layered prominently in the mix, daringly unflinching as she confesses her most lachrymose emotions: “If I’m being honest with myself, I’m heartbroken over you,” she sings resolutely on “If I’m Being Honest.” Her delivery suits the album’s dedication to the Romantic values of sentimentality: “FEELINGS ARE REAL,” reads a bumper sticker sold with the record. We might no longer dream of the Blue Flower, but in the world, and titular music video, of True Romantic, they’re featured front and center, sitting just out of reach of Ziemba’s balladry.