If you’re familiar with the Toronto R&B / hip hop scene spearheaded by artists like Drake and BADBADNOTGOOD, you might recognize the name River Tiber. For those who haven’t, you’re likely to hear more about him very soon. Born and raised in ‘the Six’, 24-year old singer/producer/multi-instrumentalist Tommy Paxton-Beesley has shown his wide array of talents on numerous local collaborations, all the while expanding his own discography, which begins with his 2013 EP The Star Falls. A couple EPs and a handful of singles later, River Tiber reigns in his growing style for his confident debut LP, Indigo.
To describe River Tiber’s current sound, I’d liken his production to a heavier, sleepier version of The Postal Service’s Give Up (2003), while his vocal style stirs like the night to Frank Ocean’s day. The vocals here are a much bigger focus than his older work, and his swooning, R&B chanting underlies much of the album. He’s able to keep his production rhythmically loose while keeping things rolling along in hazy grooves, even using alternative and sometimes-switching time signatures. There’s a lot of diversity here within the loose borders of ‘Chillwave’ and hip hop, so much so that the album would work fine as an instrumental album—yet behind the thick sound is a surprisingly interesting and honest story.
The swelling “No Talk” suggests a relationship falling apart, while the track that follows, “Acid Test” reveals it’s River Tiber who’s causing it: “In a dream I wake / I got carried high / In her arms I float”. His lover is trying to keep him tied down, but his life and career is taking him away in a sort of romantic transcendence. As the album progresses, he opens up and acknowledges his fault: “I’m playing my heart…I wish I could stop” (“Clarity”), while he repeatedly tells himself he can make it alone; “I’m a Stone”. By “Maria”, he has completely forgone morality: “It’s nothing to do with what is right.” The album closer, “Flood”, sees him already floating above everything, watching as the water rises and sweeps away his conscience and all he thought he cared about. Indigo ends on the question: “Then what do I know?”
Of the 12 tracks through the 40-minute runtime, there were plenty of strong and diverse tracks: the hazy drums and Vangelis-like synth on “Acid Test”; the silky duet with Daniel Caesar on “West”; the funk/Soul grooves on “Barcelona”; the guitar noodling and pulsing bass of “Maria”. I couldn’t point out any real low points of the album—though some of the most creative ideas feel somewhat wasted on brief interludes, like the jazzy instrumental track, “Green in Blue”.
River Tiber, though still young, has let his talent grow and ferment for the perfect amount of time, and Indigo is a great ‘official’ opening statement to the world. It’s dark, breezy, and meticulously crafted for late-night listening. River Tiber’s production is both tight and sonically fluid, his singing fills in every corner of the album, and his image as a ‘Byronic Hero’ and artist nearing transcendence is expressed with surprising clarity and introspection. If he truly does let his creativity take him floating away, it’ll be worth watching to see where he goes.
Reviewed by Matthew Wardell