Tess Roby’s debut LP Beacon, out via Italians Do It Better (Chromatics, Glass Candy), is a well-wrought collection of electronic ballads. Bringing to mind a more considered and nuanced version of Zola Jesus, Roby’s poised vocals dovetail with gently purring synthesisers, keening organs and little curls of electric guitar.
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Huh. This… is exceptional. Tess Roby is releasing a fascinating record that exists like the synth-pop version of a classic novel about windswept countryside. Using the sparse make-up of ker keyboards and percussion, plus overwhelmingly slick guitar from brother Eliot Roby, she evokes the kind of quiet, isolated bewilderment you feel when an empty bit of land belongs, in a moment, to you. The record is named after a beacon in Dalton, Lancashire, but ‘Beacon’ as a whole calls to mind any such landscape, for me recalling the ghostly explorations seen in Studio Ghibli’s ‘When Marnie Was There’.
With a voice that feels above its songs, beaming down on the record with a knowing omniscience (like a Bill Callahan or John Maus), Roby creates booming synth pop songs that can be declarative or meditative, rolling back the hills or sitting perched on them. They’re ballads, of a sort. The beats might slap down industrially, and the keys might be too gauzy, too bleeding, but ballads they remain, misshapen but moving. The self-proclaimed “Ballad 5” is a break-up song that meanders and then pulses, as if dragging itself out of its disquiet to become an assured pop song.
The sounds Roby gets out of her template are what make this record special: at points she makes songs about unrequited love sound absolutely nautical, as on “Catalyst”. On “Beacon”, the record’s searing high point, she creates a flowing, twilit journey through grasslands to her destination. Her voice, sifting amidst the serene keys, playful percussion and twanging guitar chords, twists the record into something bigger, bolder and more dramatic, beyond itself.
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- Beacon by Tess Roby
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