Being an artist or musician is scary shit. It involves ripping up everything stable and familiar and tossing it to the wind like a Baby Boomer ticker tape parade, all the while EVERY SINGLE PERSON YOU KNOW is warning, "Are you sure this is a good idea? Don't you want something a little more... stable?"
It's an unnerving litany that gets under the thickest of skins. But for those of us who truly have no choice but to create, you simply have to GO FOR IT. You've got to jump, and free-fall into the unknown.
This free-fall forms the basis of a subtle narrative arc behind Black Water, the insanely gorgeous debut EP from Toronto-based Tessa. Tessa is predominantly the brainchild of singer/songwriter Tessa Gooden; a lifelong musician with a staggeringly diverse musical background, from everything from musical theater to classical cello to singing R&B. It all comes together in a delicious frothy, heady melange on Black Water, in a way that makes a lot more sense than you would imagine.
Musically, Black Water plumbs the depths of the newly emerging alternative R&B genre (also sometimes known as "PBR&B" or, my personal favorite, "Noir&B"), as expounded on from recent artists like James Blake, Kelela, or The Weeknd. While a lot of newer alt-R&B architects use the lexicon of broken bass and depth charge beats forming a cracked pavement beneath Tessa's worn trainers. Instead of the usual ghostly vacant urban cityscapes of the post-dubstep world, Black Water seems to spell out an ever-changing landscape of same-but-different cities, rolling by pass the windows, as can be heard on the excellent “Benches." "Running from city to city until I figure it out. / The dark runs through my veins."
It's unclear what darkness Tessa is talking about. Is it a demon? An addiction? An affliction? A damaged and deranged relationship? It really doesn't matter - there's a billion types of darkness, each one as individual as a scar or a retinal scan.
Tessa's music strikes the perfect harmony between emotional and aloof, between personal and conceptual, in a way that nearly everyone can relate to. Like fellow Toronto-an Drake, the blasted beat sculptures and mangled bass are used to construct a fortress of solitude around a lone human voice, sounding frail, vulnerable and intimate in the maw of the storm. Unlike Drake, however, you can get more of a sense of Gooden's warm blood and beating heart, you can feel the blood and heat and sinew that went into making this almost criminally short EP.
Black Water is one of the most striking, ambitious and accomplished debuts I've heard in a while from an unsigned act or otherwise. Tessa Gooden has clearly learned a ton in her lifelong pursuit of musical excellence, and even more than that, she knows how to assimilate it and make sense of it all.
Black Water speaks to great things happening in the alt-R&B camp! Here's to a new and highly distinctive voice in the slanting shadows!
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