Beacon, the debut album from Montreal-based Tess Roby, has finally landed. Last month we discussed “Catalyst”, the first video from the collection which suggested the barometric pressures of what was to come. It is a dreamlike song, and the visuals offer as much poetry as they do clear view of Roby’s intention. It’s a song that stands well in the full sequence from an artist who appears to spend time in the deeper details of texture.
It makes sense that an album written some time ago should be worked so meticulously. The production here is glassy. Songs shine, and offer sometimes clear, sometimes opaque perspectives. Whatever the view that Tess Roby shares, there is always a light. A sequence of tracks recorded in the wake of her father’s death clearly touch on the issues of loneliness, and the fleeting nature of time. However, Beacon isn’t an album that is solely about darkness and loss. Roby reflects on what is left, and the influences of past events, as much as she does lament the things that escape us.
Listening to the album on the loop it’s easy to get lost. There’s a cyclical feeling in the process – and the relationship between opening track, “Given Signs” and closing track, “Borders” begs the two to be played next to each other. There’s a prism-like effect that happens to instrumentation and lyrics. Yes, this is a beacon to light the way, but perhaps it guides through time as much as the seen landscape. At times a passage of song will arrive and leave you with slightly less breath as you pause and wait for direction.
Penultimate track, “Air Above Mirage” is a song that assembles a great many layers of light. The sounds of a howling wind, then chimes, lay an organic texture, but then Roby brings a cascade of keys, and a spell is conjured. The mirage that Roby explores is not the tired cliché that other artists have watered at. This is a breath of air as we explore the tricks that light can play; what we think we see and what we actually perceive – what we believe and what we know. At first hostile-sounding, the howling atmosphere brings hope, and life, or at least the prospect of something beyond us.
Other moments offer more concrete appraisals of the situation. “Ballad 5”, still dealing in reflections and the ‘eye of the beholder’, acknowledges how perspectives change. It’s here that offers the most cutting moment in the collection as Roby point-blank delivers the line “…now I hate everything about you…” and a bass drops in on a pulse. When something needs to be said simply, we get directly to the point – and there’s the poetry.
Tess Roby, a veteran of the Canadian Children’s Opera Company, has a vocal register that explores elements beyond regular pop expectation. However, her formal education isn’t carried heavily. There’s nothing dragging her back into accepted wisdom. Beacon is an exploration ethereal elements, and so Roby goes with it. She asks questions of herself, as well as her audience. There’s structure that’s reliable, so nothing jolts or challenges for the sake of being difficult. But it’s the freedom, and the meandering enquiry of the album that is most impressive.
Beacon is a deeply rewarding album. Layers of electronica magically transpose to an organic feel. And for all the experimentation, and gentle swirls that alter our center of gravity, Tess Roby is a knowing guide. Her ability to shift weights and deliver emotion has delivered a remarkable piece of art.
HURRY – LISTEN – TESS ROBY
PHOTOGRAPHY BY RYAN MOLNAR