Montreal-based Tess Roby doesn’t make music for a streaming world. It’s not quick to the hooks. It’s not maximalist or in your face. It doesn’t try to compete with other ones and zeroes — real artists or fake.
The music demands that you set aside some time with it — to live in it — and that is a beautiful thing. If you’re trying to multitask you’ll inevitably only get a small degree of the meaningful experiences that await. You have to be present.
In that presence, Roby creates engaging and melodic music that sits in compelling soundscapes and sacred spaces. Therefore, her second album, Ideas of Space, out today, is aptly named. That title is also a promise she delivers on exponentially.
Looking back on her 2019 debut, Beacon, Roby established herself as an artist with a preternatural ability to weave intricate but accessible tapestries both beautiful and novel, but which never detracted from the deeply human, emotional core of her work. This time around, that spirit persists but the music has more breathing room. Roby’s mezzo-soprano vocals move air around in a freer fashion and the synth-driven compositions, though still intricate, are woven less tightly. The rhythm section is bigger, with drums and drum programming that tastefully strike a more robust reverberation. The propulsive and woodwind-toasted “Eyes of Babylon” and the arp-driven title song embody this shift.
Standout cut “Path” shows Roby in a faster, more beat-driven space — a rhythm to which she brings more emphasis because she sets her vocals an octave or two higher than her typical register. Add in the transcendent array of synths, and the result is a type of sparsely-lit and mantra-washed night music. “House/Home” has a similar spirit, pairing a kinetic rhythm section with intergalactic synths and ethereal vocals in that masterpiece-type-of-way you’d find on the inimitable Pure Moods.
“Up 2 Me,” one of the album’s pre-release singles, is another standout track. On it Roby unleashes a cascade of Glassian arpeggiations, under which is an excited rhythm section that hugs the swirl with mechanistic discipline. Roby’s vocal rounds join the cascade, mimicking (and complementing) the thematic repetition.
The drums take a breather on the extraordinary “Euphoria in August,” a meditative number buoyed by tempered but impassioned synths and a tastefully deployed cello. Roby’s hypnotic vocals create an environment of unbridled contemplation. This is another mantra-like track, with just a few lines that repeat with poignant immediacy: “Who am I to love/Mother of the moon/Euphoria in August/Silence in the room.”
Overall, Ideas of Space finds Roby easily avoiding any sort of sophomore slump. Perhaps it’s the greater artistic control — she has left Italians Do It Better and releases on her own label, which inevitably leads to a sort-of “new lease on life” for many musicians. She also has a few more collaborators, which can also keep things fresh. I guess I could throw out 100 speculations, but the bottom line is this is an important album. Whether with her solo career or with the electronic trio Dawn to Dawn, Roby has shown consistently that she’s destined for greatness of some order. I called the last record a masterpiece and I believe that term applies to Ideas of Space, too. So perhaps she’s already at the greatness stage. Anyway, I’m ready to play this record on repeat ad infinitum and am certainly excited for whatever she has in store for us in the future.
Ideas of Space is out today via Roby’s SSURROUNDSS label in digital and physical formats.