Why you should care
Because your bedroom playlist will need some adjustments.
The 24-year-old Tei Shi isn’t someone you can easily put in a box. The Brooklyn-based singer, also known as Valerie Teicher, delivers a euphonious combination of R&B and electro-pop that’s far more accessible than that of her indie peers — a Hot 100 hit isn’t that farfetched. Now that people are wisely starting to take notice of this Colombian talent on the Mermaid Music label (a Mom + Pop imprint), Tei Shi may not fall into indie-exclusive obscurity at all.
Like many good things, Beyoncé has something do with her rise. Earlier in the year, Tei Shi released a maximalist cover of “No Angel.” Where Beyoncé’s breathy coos fill the space of the original, Tei Shi’s version twinkles thanks to glitchy key riffs and more emphatic percussion. More importantly, it all serves to surround her echoing voice.
Her coy vocals cascade across the terse, almost robotic synth line.
Therein lies one of the main differences between Tei Shi and many other acts of the electronic R&B/soul ilk, such as Jhene Aiko, Tinashe, et al. Tei Shi’s voice is the fulcrum of most of her music. She doesn’t have a particularly wide range — she sticks to this high-register, ghostly singing style — but there’s an especially soothing quality within this nocturnal bounce that compels further listening. Tei Shi’s songs definitely orbit the electronic vibes that are in demand right now, but they’re distinctive enough to position her as a force in her own right.
Her most recent track, “Bassically,” is one of the best of her small catalog. It’s a well-done exercise in juxtapositions, as her coy vocals cascade across the terse, almost robotic synth line: “Baby I’ll behave / If you let me stay,” she sings with perhaps nefarious intentions. But what starts out as a tight package turns transformative when she howls in “Bassically’s” climax, giving the track extra sinew and a cathartic appeal that places Tei Shi somewhere in the line between CHVRCHES’ kaleidoscopics and AlunaGeorge’s efficiency. Only Tei Shi is conveying those attributes as a solo act.
The Saudade EP, her lone project released late last year, is another welcome glimpse at her talent. The six-track release is a mixed bag. “M&Ms” is a piece of woozy R&B with hums and solemnity that’s lacking in emotional substance. “Heart Shaped Birthmark” is a genteel choral closer that doesn’t resonate due to the thin vocal range.
Saudade’s successes do make up for the shortcomings, though. The biggest one is “Nevermind the End.” The dreamy key riff, the distortion and the clean sliding guitar — they all manage to coalesce by the hook to give Tei Shi this vespertine glow as she makes her plea: “I’ll be your morning light / If you can be my rock tonight.” (OK, so her lyrics might need some work, too). “Nature vs. Nurture” finds Tei Shi pushed into something more festive — a nice break from her usual will-o’-wisp presence.
So Tei Shi is a work in progress, but there’s a space within the nighttime atmosphere that makes room for wholly accessible pop. Her output has glimpses of the possibilities within that space. In a recent interview she said she has more, brighter material in the works. So far her work may be hit and miss, but tracks like “Bassically” show that at least the hits could be home runs.