It was the catchy chorus and electro beats on 2015’s ‘Bassically’ that got caused Tei Shi to be noticed in the world, as she proved herself to be a fine R’n’B singer. On Crawl Spacem, the Columbian born Brooklyn based artist, aka Valerie Teicher, also proves herself as a writer, producer and all round deliciously talented individual with a knack for writing powerful and passionate genre spanning tunes.
The debut album was recorded over eighteen months, and is described as a documentation of her transition from a “curious new kid on the block” to a “confident, self-possessed” artist. That confidence is startlingly clear through the execution, even if the subject matter sometimes opens up vulnerable spaces. Exposed, liminal spaces are made accessible and connective, at the same time shattering with personal feeling. Tracing an expansive arc of inspiration and influence, it’s a potent set of tracks that seduces the listener from opening to close.
First single ‘Keep Running’ is a hypnotic melody, elegantly spiralling its way into the ear, before disintegrating with a rarified cosmic fervour. She may be only young, but feels the pressure of time as much as anyone, singing “Every time I look over my shoulder / I’m getting older / I’m getting older / Time is so sad.” Dynamic and curving, there’s a palpable physicality to the tune that takes the listener with her. This velocity is felt throughout the album. Birds seem to be calling in ‘Justify’ as a child’s Casio keyboard spins down a helter-skelter in its tumbling iridescent ending.
She often shifts from drowning echoes to a pitch at the point of ecstasy, the act of vulnerability being both liberating and exposing, the process of living joyous and demanding. ‘Creep’ is a slinky R&B number that throbs with electronic horns, whilst things get romantic on ‘Baby’, a slower tune that shimmers with floral sweetness and melancholy. That fine line is traversed in both style and purpose with ‘How Far’ where the piano is juxtaposed with tense fizzes of electro. Of this tune, Tei Shi notes, “How Far is a song about the line towed by two people between love and destruction. It talks about the process of attempting to change one another in a relationship, and the final desperate point – the last attempt – before acceptance.”
Even at her most vulnerable there’s a level of poise. ‘Say You Do’ is a challenge to communication in relationships, radio friendly beats and summer vibes, chiming its way in before bouncing into layered synthy vocals.
Brassy glitches, sporadic flickers and an intermittent pulse on ‘Year 3k‘ is a neon tune with saccharine vocals that also manage to sound plaintive and shivering. Underpinned by an apparent ringtone, it’s teasingly sparse and mischievous. Como Si is grandious and intuitive, the light shifting across the chords and a spacious dreamy daze permeating the whole. Originally written as a poem before she set it to a melody, it is the first song Tei Shi has ever released in Spanish. “I really wanted to do something in Spanish because it’s such a big part of my identity. I love the language and it’s a way of preserving this part of myself.” Although the meaning will be unfamiliar to many listeners, there’s no sense that this is an odd one out on the album. Despite the multi dimensional and variegated sense of style of substance of the fifteen tracks, there’s a cohesiveness to Crawl Space. ‘Crawl‘ itself could well be a Beyonce tune, albeit with more reflective lyrics that chart her challenging of convention to become her own artist “You crawl, then you walk, then you run the show.”
The final track ‘Sleepy‘ is the most ballad like and traditional tune, seductive and layered harmonies that feel delivered from a place of elevated perspective. Gorgeously soporific and dreamlike, without any hint of being a pun, it’s a lullingly tender ode.
There is less blending of layers as on her earlier songs, with the vocals being stark and clear at times, suggesting a real confidence in standing out and being seen. The album’s title comes from Tei Shi’s way of coping with anxiety and insomnia at the age of 8. A fear of the dark and unknown led her to hide inside her family home’s ‘crawlspace’ for a minute each night, in order to confront her fear. This symbol seems apt for what is no doubt a transitional time for the artist.
As light shifts through Crawl Space, mystery playing with melancholy and the tension between sharpness and softness is wandered, there’s a real sense of growing up. A self-portrait of emotional landscape, it has is made slick with studio treatment, but in this process of meticulous selection, artful arrangement, overall cohesiveness and sleek decoration, none of the emotion is lost. Jam packed with variety but clearly Teicher, at times it’s a sleek as pale silk washing over the ears, and at others the angular assortment feels jarringly exhilarating.
An album of liberation, in which Tei Shi comes of age – yet it’s only the beginning.
Crawl Space is released on 31st March through Polydor.