Get lost in the swirly synths.
After being sampled by Drake last year, it was only a matter of time before producer/multi-instrumentalist River Tiber had his moment in the limelight. Because of his connection to one of rap’s biggest stars, as well as work with Kaytranada and Badbadnotgood, Tiber’s first full-length LP, Indigo, has to accomplish a difficult task: the album comes with lofty expectations for those who know his name while also establishing the upstart as a solo artist worth your time and attention.
Whether he manages to accomplish the latter is, unfortunately, pretty inconclusive. Indigo is the kind of record that one might struggle to pay close attention to on first listen. Tiber, who was born Tommy Paxton-Beesley, traffics in a bedroom production style gives the project strong sonic cohesion and brooding atmosphere, but makes it easy to get lost in the swirly synths and reverberating echoes of his voice.
A producer making the leap to headliner has always been a tricky feat, and while Tiber is a gifted producer capable of crafting lush, atmospheric soundscapes, his vocals sometimes do his instrumentals a disservice. Tiber crafts woozy beats that require a certain amount of charisma to ride over, charisma that he simply doesn’t have yet on the mic.
The proper way to get the most out of Indigo is to parse the individual tracks, taking note of the small flourishes that differentiate them and highlight Tiber’s skill. The splashy cymbals and musty guitar on “Barcelona” echo BBNG, and the track eventually builds into a pleasing groove that contrasts ethereal, falsetto vocal harmonies with Mediterranean bounce.
“West,” which was sampled by Mac Miller on GO:OD AM is serene and soulful, with a delicate, ascending vocal run giving it structure. Singer Daniel Caesar pitches in on the hook and second verse, providing a welcome new voice just when listeners might start to grow a bit weary of Tiber’s detached crooning. He clearly studied at the James Blake School of Indie Electronica, but doesn’t allow himself the moments of all-out belting that Blake does occasionally. It’s easy to get the impression that Paxton-Beesley’s flat affect and reliance on effects might be partially to mask his pretty unremarkable voice.
Behind the boards is where Tiber’s talent truly lies, and he has a few show-stopping moments throughout Indigo. The lurid “Motives” features a guitar riff that’ll make the hair on your neck stand straight, and the metamorphosis on album closer “Flood” from smooth piano to chaotic acid jazz debauchery is impressive for a four-minute song.
Still, it’s hard to hear these tracks and not feel they could be more compelling with another vocalist. Tiber’s restrained, ethereal delivery is a fine fit for most of Indigo, but unlike Blake or Jamie Woon, Tiber’s isn’t the singular voice for these soundscapes.
Look no further than his Red Bull Sound Select cut “Illusions,” which features a stellar verse from Pusha T whose forked-tongue delivery cuts through the haze of the instrumental beautifully, leaving Tiber to handle hook duty. That track also benefited from co-production by Kaytranada and Doc McKinney, and it’s worth wondering if Tiber could’ve used some more collaborators on this insular LP, which only features Frank Dukes and Danny Voicu helping man the boards.
There’s no denying Paxton-Beesley’s talent, but it’ll take an album a bit stronger than Indigo to prove that his primary path should be as a solo artist, not a producer/writer.