#soundcheck: tess makes big impact on debut ep – the name is tess

July 2, 2012

Singer/songwriter and AP member Tess refers to her music as “Hip Rock & B,” which even if it doesn’t quite roll off the tongue, is at least a pretty solid description. She has the massive voice of a pop star, but an eclecticism and depth of soul rarely heard these days in Top 40 land. Though The Name is Tess is her debut EP, this isn’t Tess’ first time around the block. She previously made a splash with her collaboration with DJ Static on the inventive Jodeci cover EP TESS Goes Jodeci. This time the songs are all hers, and they definitely pack a punch.

Opener ‘Danger’ has a bit of retro flair. The giant beat, distorted organ and vocals call to mind 60s Motown. Tess kicks it off boldly: “Have you seen her? / This bitch is crazy / yeah she’s out her mind.” If you’re looking for an opening line to your first EP; that’s how it’s done. Tess and producer Mr. Reynolds smartly keep each song varied and unique, letting each track find it’s own personality. The production is tight across the board though occasionally veers too much into standard pop territory. The electronic flourishes on the instant party soundtrack track ‘Haunted’ seem to belong to an entirely different album. Tess is her most exciting when her massive hooks are cut with thrashing guitars, as on the standout ‘Cut Open.’

‘Whore’ is a gut punch of a song. Taking production cues from 90s electro-rocker Poe, the song tells the story of an abusive relationship. In the kind of composition that pop music hasn’t seen since the days of Pink Floyd; the music builds and seethes in perfect harmony with the story. The only real misstep on the EP is the fault of the EP format itself: when ‘Whore’—a song whose chorus contains the painfully real “basically raped me, then called me your baby”—gives way to ‘MJ,’ an ode to getting high and listening to Michael Jackson. Booth good songs, but the transition gives you whiplash and makes it almost impossible to enjoy the fun. And really, how can you hate on a song whose chorus is “gonna roll me a fat one / put my speakers on blast / and listen to Michael Jackson?” If you haven’t been there, then you’re a robot.
Tess closes out the EP with the obligatory acoustic rendition of an earlier song. But unlike most artists who simply play the same song the same way, but on a different instrument, Tess—no stranger to re-imagining songs—completely reinvents her own song. Aside from a few lyrics the song is almost unrecognizable. The song actually accomplishes what most artists think theirs does when they include an acoustic bonus. It’s a quiet reminder that though she’s clearly setting herself up for the mainstream, this is an actual artist, not just a giant voice. But seriously, what a voice.

– Words by Nathan Leigh