Review: Tei Shi, Crawl Space

A shapeshifting, alluring debut from the Buenos Aires-cum-Brooklyn pop singer
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A shapeshifting, alluring debut from the Buenos Aires-cum-Brooklyn pop singer
Tei Shi

Living in the moment requires more effort than you realize. Situated at the crossroads between the past and future, the present places you at the pivot of experience and your expectations, where dreams become actions. This juxtaposition constructs each person’s everyday reality, and forms the basis for Valerie Teicher’s, aka Tei Shi’s, debut album, Crawl Space.

Like the martial arts style she takes her name from, Teicher finds strength and stability by balancing opposing forces within her life. Rather than meet hardship with force, tai chi practitioners yield to obstacles as a means of maintaining harmony. To achieve a ying-yang equilibrium, Teicher uses her troubles as a fulcrum: “Tell me what I need/Take all my faults and hold them up to me” she says, tying self-deprecation to self-expression. On Crawl Space, she inserts her adult self in her childhood hiding spot, thereby positioning her history against her destiny, actions against dreams, talents against shortcomings.

From the onset of the record, the march of time makes itself evident, booming in the background on the deep synths in “Keep Running”. Teicher finds herself growing older not when looking at herself but when visualizing the change in her surroundings, only after doing so does she grasp her own growth. Now, after embracing a music career after years of self-doubt, does she recognize how the passing of years impacts her work. Instead of wallowing over missed opportunities, Teicher comes to terms with them, emerging with the confidence to pursue her craft.

Because of its contemplative nature, Crawl Space functions best as a deep listen rather than a casual playlist; while pleasant, its concentrated complexity requires attention to fully appreciate Teicher’s vision. Littered throughout the album are reverberations, hums, and screeches peppering each track like Easter eggs to be discovered with each replay. And while the material gets personal, each revelation made only peels away one layer to reveal another in Teicher’s psyche. On an old cassette recording of a young Teicher, titled “Bad Singer”, she self divulges a desire to “be like Britney Spears”, though little of the record actually exudes much of Spears’ influence or genre.

If anything, Crawl Space defies classification altogether, conglomerating a variety of influences and personas to tell its tales. It’s variation primarily stems from the way Teicher wields her voice, an instrument capable of mellifluous birdsong or cacophonous roars. She walks on air at points, a whisper in the wind on “Creep” as she speaks of nestling beneath your skin. Conversely, it spirals into dissonance on “Justify” as Teicher’s shrieks implore your attention. Few artists pull off such vocal dexterity, but Teicher does so, and quite naturally. While at points strained, such as on the aforementioned “Justify”, her voice never appears contrived or over the top.

Much credit is also due to Teicher’s longtime collaborator, Gianluca Buccellati, whose productions allow Crawl Space to weave smoothly among genres. “Baby” could find a home on an alt-rock record, “Como Si” is a lovely bossa nova, and her most accessible track, “Say You Do” exudes the lightness of ‘80s pop. Ironically, Teicher makes her most straightforward track the one that reveals you know nothing about her. But, it is in these contradictions Teicher says the most about herself and the mosaic of human emotion.

Teicher’s only downfalls arrive in the latter tracks, which dip off in obscurity if you’re not paying close attention. The “Year 3K” is not nearly as exciting as one expects the future to be, repeating its same lyrics and melodies over and over without saying much else of note, and “Your World” is mostly notable for Buccellati’s twangy, echoing guitars rather than Teicher’s input. However, one late-game track, album highlight, “Crawl”, interrupts the album’s smooth ride, building from a Grimes-esque quiver into the wails of a banshee. Here, Teicher could easily be singing to herself or to a companion, inviting you to “put your legs into it.” It’s loud, discordant, and sounds entirely unique. It perfectly encapsulates the imagination surrounding Crawl Space, which enjoins experimentation, risk, and acceptance to find tranquility. One of those risks involves falling down, or hitting “the floor,” which would end those discouraged by hardship. But when Teicher takes a tumble, she rolls with it. B