Over the past couple of months, I’ve written a bit about Montreal-based singer/songwriter and producer Tess Roby. Roby is a classically trained vocalist and self-taught synth player, who has developed and honed an exploratory sound and approach that blurs the lines between pop, ambient electronica and alternative folk with a decided emphasis on voice as its own instrument.
The Montreal-based artist’s sophomore album Ideas of Space is slated for an April 22, 2022 release through her own label SSURROUNDSS. The album reportedly sees Roby moving towards full artistic independence with the Montreal-based artist acting as songwriter, producer, musician, video director and art director throughout the entire creative process.
Ideas of Space features guest spots from BRAIDS‘ Austin Tufts, Joseph Shabason and Ouri, who contribute drums, woodwinds and cello respectively, adding intricate textures to material centered around fuller-bodied production and expansive song structures. The album’s songs shift effortlessly from jubilant highs to contemplative lows, evoking the concepts of duality, which run throughout the album’s material.
So far I’ve written about two album singles:
- The mesmerizing, Kate Bush and Flourish//Perish era BRAIDS-like album title track “Ideas of Space,” which featured glistening and looping synth arpeggios, dramatic drumming and Roby’s achingly plaintive vocals. “‘Ideas of Space’ signals the beginning of a new chapter. This song is hypnotic and sinuous, and sonically possesses a certain power and urgency,” Roby says in press notes. “When I listen to it I imagine vast landscapes, a climb, a journey. Two distinct voices speak to each other; one lost, questioning, and the other guiding the way. I wanted to visually represent those voices and the journey I was on while making this album; one of self-discovery, hardship, adventure and in the end, confidence and strength.”
- The mediative “Up 2 Me,” which featured skittering beats programmed by BRAIDS’ Austin Tufts paired with glistening synth arpeggios and Roby’s plaintive vocals. “The making of this song was very meditative. It was the first song I wrote following a situation that had taken a toll on my mental health, and had kept me out of the studio for a long time,” Roby explains in press notes. “The first iteration came in the summer of 2020, and it rested as an instrumental demo for a while. When I was close to finishing the album, I searched through all my recordings to find a final track – this one stood out to me. I wrote the vocal melody and arranged the song, then brought the instrumental to Austin Tufts along with a beat and asked him to program and expand on the idea. At this point we had been working together for a while and he was totally immersed in my sonic universe and knew the mood I was after.”
“Path,” Ideas of Space‘s third and latest single features an atmospheric production centered around gentle layers of ambient and glistening synth arpeggios, skittering tribal house-like beats paired with layers of Roby’s plaintive vocals. Thematically, the song focuses on time — but through the prism of an older, wizened version of yourself speaking to a younger, more innocent version of yourself.
The accompanying visual features 16mm footage shot back in 2019 by Hugo Bernier before the song was even conceived. We see a slightly younger Roby dancing and swaying and running during golden hour — and during what now seems like a simpler, more carefree time.
“The 16mm footage in this video was shot in 2019 before ‘Path’ was written. Hugo & I sat with that footage for a while, at times forgetting about it completely, but always coming back to its beauty and simplicity,” Roby says in press notes. “I had the footage in the studio with me while I was writing and it ended up inspiring parts of the song. I had never worked in that way before; video footage influencing songwriting – it was an interesting process, reversing the way in which I usually work with video. So much has changed since that footage was shot. It was only natural to pair it with footage of me now, in this very moment, speaking to myself then: ‘you’re looking down, I’m reaching out, if only I could see it like you do.’”