No, Dear Tommy still isn’t here yet. After a long series of delays, Chromatics mastermind Johnny Jewel destroyed all physical copies of the band’s long-awaited album and essentially went back to the drawing board, though slowing down the progress of Italians Do It Better‘s flagship band hasn’t halted his own expectedly prolific output. In the three years since that album was supposed to happen, Jewel has released two film scores, three instrumental albums, two EPs, remixed Zola Jesus and landed Chromatics two performances in Twin Peaks: The Return, which is easily the coolest of all his credits since, if we’re being honest. But true to his svengali role at IDIB between 2006 and 2012, Jewel has also been slowly expanding the roster of the label with new artists and collaborators—and frankly, they’re always collaborators. Newcomers Farah and Twisted Wires quietly issued some gorgeously synth-laden pop vinyl on the label last year, while Toronto newcomer Tess Roby has issued her first full-length with the benefit of having Jewel’s endorsement.
Roby is an expressive vocalist, neither as sassy and kitschy as Glass Candy’s Ida No nor as dreamily distant as Chromatics’ Ruth Radelet. Yet there’s a sense of melancholy to her voice that fits in comfortably alongside Italians Do It Better’s crop of vocalists. In fact, everything about Beacon is melancholy, the album having been written after Roby’s father died in 2015. It’s mournful, though it’s still listener-friendly, and those two ideas aren’t always complementary concepts. The sadness of the album is wrapped in ghostly synthesizers and bittersweet reminiscences. It’s a series of late-night snapshots that capture not devastation but a kind of quiet, dignified sense of loss.
Beacon is, however, gorgeous. Held against other IDIB releases, it feels strangely minimalist. Though gauzy synths and dream-pop guitars play a major role here, they’re given an ample amount of space. Each of the album’s eight songs is given plenty of room to breathe, and at their most minimalist, as on standout “Plasticine Hills,” they’re utterly hypnotic. Given a bit more rhythm and momentum, however, they enter a more sumptuous space; the title track merely adds a bit more percussion to flesh out the sound, but a little goes a long way, as does Roby’s own vocal harmonies. Yet when given the opportunity to expand out into a psychedelic synthwave strata, Roby’s music reveals even more possibilities. Beacon is a deeply personal album, and a frequently beautiful album, but its most exciting quality is the suggestion of where she might go next.
Jeff Terich is the founder and editor of Treble. He's been writing about music for 20 years and has been published at American Songwriter, Bandcamp Daily, Reverb, Spin, Stereogum, uDiscoverMusic, VinylMePlease and some others that he's forgetting right now. He's still not tired of it.