Album: La Linda
Artist: Tei Shi
Genre: Alternative R&B
Record Label(s): Downtown Records
Recommended Tracks: Track 3-Even If It Hurts and Track 11-We
Valerie Teicher Barbosa, better known as Tei Shi, has been a favorite amongst critics since her first couple singles that she dropped in 2013. Tei Shi exceeds at crafting soft, detailed, and lush pop that employs elements of synth pop, R&B, reggaeton (specifically dembow rhythm), as well as a bevy of other eclectic sound palettes. Barbosa is a Jewish Colombian-Canadian woman, and her diverse cultural identity shows itself across her discography. For example, while she usually sticks to signing in english, little bits of Spanish, as well as “Matando” a full Spanish song off of this album, appear speckled throughout her work. Tei Shi has been known to compose and produce, however on this album she doesn’t have any credits as a producer. However, she leaves the production to a group of outstanding talents, such as Daniel Aged, Noah Beresin of Chiddy Bang fame, and Dev Hynes aka Blood Orange. Overall, I’d give this album a ⅗, as sometimes the minimal instrumentation contrasted with Tei Shi’s soft singing create delicate and gorgeous cuts with enough understatement and intricacy as to appear avant garde and masterful. However, Tei Shi’s underwhelming vocals and the lush soft dreaminess of songs can also turn lots of tracks into soupy, nebulous, and even boring experiences.
My first standout track is by far my favorite on the album, Even If It Hurts featuring Blood Orange with vocals and production. This song sounds a lot like a cut on which Dev might have landed on his last project Angel’s Pulse. This track exemplifies why aesthetic appraisals such as gorgeous, smooth, and lush, are so often applied to Tei Shi’s music. The drums on this track are hypnotic and driving, and are a perfect grounding exposition to the glitziness of the rest of the track. Dev Hynes shows why his blend of airy vocals, proud piano lines, and synthy meandering have been so enrapturing. While neither Dev or Tei Shi are amazing as vocalists, the sticky melodies and wonderful production more than atone for this. If this realm of music is of interest to you at all, I would strongly implore you to not make this a track you miss.
My other standout track is the one piloted by Daniel Aged, who recently worked on Frank Ocean’s much anticipated “DHL”. The track opens with bird sounds and a couple warm reverberating guitar chords. Tei Shi then closes her album with this short poetic strong that leaves me wondering what potential she has as a songwriter along with her already impeccable production sensibilities. I interpret this song as being about Tei Shi’s experience of being a woman, and how she has been subliminally coerced into negative self conception. One of the most biting lyrics is “The confidence they take away from we, it should be criminal, it’s so subliminal” which shows the collective experience of being subjugation that women have the burden of sharing. The song closes by rolling out some dark synths and looping some distorted noise that sort of sounds like pressurized air, and then finally the album closes as simplistically as it began, with bird noises.
Overall, I think Tei Shi relies a lot on the gorgeous production that she and her collaborators are able to create, and due to this her presence on the track often feels muted and lacking. I mean, understated airy vocals are very in vogue currently, however I can think of many more compelling vocalists and songwriters I’d like to see over this production. I think Tei Shi assumes a large effort on the listener to pick apart and recreate meaning from her poetic, vague, faint lyrics and singing, and while that has definitely worked for others and is an interesting approach to songwriting, I just don’t find many of the tracks compelling enough to want to revisit them enough times to find deeper meanings or small sonic modifications or cool mixing on sounds. However, on a few tracks I think concessions to conventional music practices and driving drums help songs maintain enough structure to allow the otherwise lovely production Tei Shi employs to shine. If you like Tei Shi, I would definitely check out Blood Orange if you somehow haven’t already, as well as Tennis, and potentially TOPS. If you want something light and beautiful to listen to in the background while doing something else, I think this album is definitely worth a listen.