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Drawn by the ebb and flow

Tommy Paxton-Beesley's Indigo is seduction with an undertow of pull and push

Like its European counterparts The Seine (Paris) and The Thames (London), The Tiber has attained everlasting fame by being the waterway that gave birth to one of the greatest capitals in the world - in this case, Rome, founded on its eastern banks in 753BC.

Perhaps that is why 25-year-old Canadian multiinstrumentalist-producer Tommy Paxton-Beesley decided to adopt the historical significant moniker.

By now, the pitch-perfect, urbane vibes he makes as River Tiber aren't as groundbreaking as his closest comparison James Blake's, a comedown from the high of post-dubstep in the early 2010s, but there is nonetheless something mysterious at the core of his art.

"She's born in the moment/She's won in the morning" is the opening line of Genesis, the first track from his full-fledged debut, Indigo.

  • ALTERNATIVE R&B

  • INDIGO

    River Tiber

    Independent

    4/5 stars

Is he referring to Rome, the city, some legendary mythical figure or just a paramour he's fallen head over heels for? You don't quite fathom as he sings over electronic washes, synths hovering over like a chopper.

The water motif flows through to the next track, No Talk, which first gained exposure last year when it was sampled by Drake for the latter's track No Tellin'.

"And you feel it like the motion/ To the bottom of the ocean," he keens, clearly now, buoyed on a gentle swell of a Rhodes organ, percussion and backing vocals.

His voice is woven into the fabric of Midnight, a quizzical undertow of staccato beats that sidestep rather than get you into a rhythm. "If I'm only here to find the centre," he sings like a man in free fall, but in water.

The sense of change, of a life in flux, pervades West, a beautifully languid ballad featuring fellow Torontonian Daniel Caesar. "I'm flowing west" is the refrain sung by both Caesar and Paxton-Beesley, alluding to the passing of a relationship, or that the latter is moving westwards to pursue his career in Los Angeles.

In Clarity, an electro-soul doozie slicked up by synths that scuttle then slip, Paxton-Beesley and a third Torontonian, Tess Parks, echo and share gnomic lines such as "I know what I want/I know what I'm not" before ending with "Go slow with it". It's both sexy come hither-on and passive-aggressive jab.

It's this inner tug-of-war that lends Indigo its sonorous energy. On the surface, everything is seduction, but there's an undertow of pull and push, thrust and let go.

"I'm a stone in the centre of a flame," Paxton-Beesley declares in I'm A Stone - a rare non-fluvial image in a sea of change. The synths warble as if a spaceship is about to land, to take him away, to the west, to another planet, to another universe.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on July 20, 2016, with the headline 'Drawn by the ebb and flow'. Print Edition | Subscribe