“I get angry at myself for trying to impress you,” coos singer/songwriter Matt Corby three songs into Telluric, his full-length debut. Of course, like any R&B vocalist worth his salt, Corby sounds neither angry nor like he’s trying to impress. In fact, he tempers the passions that define this album with an often buttery-smooth delivery, even when he raises his voice. Corby’s lyrics paint pictures of flustered narrators reaching the edge of their patience but, along with co-producer Dan Hume and an ultra-suave cast of studio musicians, Corby clearly meant for Telluric to ease, rather than quicken, the listener’s blood pressure.
Of course, that sense of of ease makes Corby’s accomplishments on this record sound easy. Don’t be fooled. If we go back and listen to any classic album with a similarly downtempo disposition – anything from Marvin Gaye’s What’s Goin’ On to neo-soul luminaries like D’Angelo and Maxwell – we can quickly lose sight of the near-impossible balance that this style of music requires. Corby nails that balance, coming across as unhurried and cool-headed without succumbing to monotony. Of course, the album’s song-to-song variation and supple musical shifts certainly help.
The celestial background vocals on “Monday,” for example, recall Depeche Mode’s forays into gospel on 1993’s Songs of Faith and Devotion. “Knife Edge” begins with what at first sounds like a plaintive Rhodes figure until it gets swept off its feet by a smooth funk pulse. Reversing that pattern, the next tune “Oh Oh Oh” starts out with a funky drumbeat before yanking itself back halfway into ballad territory. Meanwhile, the crawling rhythm of “Wrong Man” could have dragged on if not for billowy clouds of piano and keys that give the song a pop-rock flavor. And “We Could Be Friends” turns from a throbbing, skeletal vamp into something else thanks to wispy background vocals that trail in the distance like benign ghosts. And all throughout, the music’s polish somehow doesn’t detract from the gravity of the mood that Corby sets.
Sure, Telluric features a song titled “Sooth Lady Wine,” but it would be unfair to position this album as the escapist silk-sheet boudoir fantasy that all too often masquerades as emotion. From the sounds of it, Corby is after your heart, not your hips. Much of Telluric trembles with regret, resignation, uncertainty – feelings that lend shading and depth to the music’s undercurrents of longing. Not to mention that Corby doesn’t isolate his longing to romantic longing alone. When he pines, he could just as easily be pining for a time or a place or, perhaps, an aspect of his life or even the person he once was.
These sensations don’t necessarily announce themselves in explicit terms, but the music’s immense range and expressiveness allow you to sit in the songs and paint them with your own colors. Because the music itself evokes so strongly, at times Corby’s voice enters the room like an unobtrusive breeze as your thoughts focus on other things. Telluric almost three years after Corby’s last studio EP (his sixth), 2013’s Resolution. He even scrapped his first attempt at making this album. Given the oceanic majesty of the mixes on these songs, the delay makes sense.
Rural New South Wales, Australia may never earn a spot on the map as a soul music hotbed, but Corby and artists like Norway’s Bernhoft prove just how deeply — and convincingly – the American R&B tradition can seep into people who would otherwise appear too far removed from its source to join in its conversation. But Corby’s delivery resonates as utterly natural, without even the slightest hint that he’s contriving a persona or pantomiming. That’s also because he isn’t merely aping his forebears. Unlike the glut of his peers, Corby has opted to give Telluric a modern likeness rather than go for ‘60s or ‘70-style production.
Instead, Corby, Hume and the band (whose contributions here cannot be overstated) have come up with a fresh, resplendent take on soul music. Spiked with muted touches of rock and other intangibles, Telluric establishes Corby as far more than a genre stylist and even stamps him as a visionary to watch right out of the gate.