Argentina-via-Brooklyn singer-songwriter Tei Shi's debut album has been several years coming — her buzz-garnering 2014 single "Bassically" now feels like a distant memory, and it seems plausible that Valerie Teicher may have wanted to put some space between that single and her latest release, Crawl Space.
Those hoping for a series of variations on the sumptuous power pop of "Bassically" aren't going to get it on Crawl Space, but that's not a criticism in the slightest: the album demonstrates Teicher's range with flair, all the while managing to remain cohesive. Teicher's silky-smooth vocals, often foregrounded, are a vital linchpin to this.
The utter strength of her vocals play into the album's loose "evolution of the artist"-type narrative — two separate interludes on Crawl Space use recordings of Teicher as a child, labelling herself a "bad singer" (one also invokes Britney Spears mega-star status as a career goal). But though there's certainly some anxiety injected into tracks here, Teicher's childhood insecurities can clearly be banished with this confident work of R&B-tinged pop.
Crawl Space bursts out of the speakers with opener "Keep Running," a dreamy slice of R&B with hefty, bowel-shaking bass. The track attempts a lot — Teicher's voice is at turns siren-like but plaintive, with an all-round vibe that is both bouncy and nonchalant. Yet for all these apparently disparate elements going on, it works. "Creep" keeps the tone up, but throws in just a touch of glitchiness, an apparent reminder that this is pop that stems from a more experimental, DIY artistic approach, instead of hyper-produced chart bait.
Teicher mixes the tone around as the album moves on. "Baby" takes on a breezy, almost beachy tone that hints at borderline twee acts like Montreal's TOPS, while "Say You Do" is an anthemic homage to upbeat R&B sounds of the '90s. "Crawl" invokes a dancehall sound, both in its beat work and lyrical references to hitting the floor.
Penultimate track "Your World" is perhaps the most forward-thinking item here; with the unusual mash of R&B and dream pop, it offers something novel, where some other parts of the album do have a tendency to be a touch heavy on paying homage to styles past. But the sounds and homages on offer are diverse enough that this is a minor quibble with what should otherwise be held up as a model debut album. (Arts & Crafts)