Tone Deaf: What Does the Program Director Listen to?
In her debut rock-solid LP, Crawl Space, Tei Shi has successfully blended together R&B, pop, and pure magic. Jokingly described by herself as “mermaid music,” Tei Shi’s sound is truly unique, and as she grows as an artist, this becomes increasingly more evident.
Crawl Space is a sort of coming-of-age story about facing what you’re afraid of and not letting insecurity corrupt your core. In this truly dynamic album, Tei Shi inserts clips of her younger self speaking about the “way to record,” how she wants to be like Britney Spears, and that she is a self-professed “bad singer and a hell of a bad girl.”
We begin the album with child Tei Shi learning and then teaching how to record sound onto a cassette. This is a masterful way to start this coming-of-age album and the listener’s journey into the fantasy land of sound and the struggle of overcoming the childlike adversity of submission.
The clip effortlessly flows into the first song of the album, “Keep Running,” which is entirely about a lover’s chase, and how close they are to missing their shot. The implication is that time is limited, and if you don’t “keep running” then you’ll be out of luck and stuck in the past. The pre-chorus skillfully represents this idea, the tragedy of bad timing and the potential to embrace it and never look back after setting your mind.
The next track on this album is “Creep,” which is an interesting transition between “Keep Running” simply by the title. This song is drastically different from the last, where before Tei Shi was playing the part as the prize of a lover, now she is the one fighting for love at first glance.
The song alludes to fighting with herself on what exactly what she wants from this love, the lyrics illustrating uneasiness from the subject. Tei shi slowly recognizing she might not want this love anymore, even if it was the “love that [they] gave [her]”, and once she does realize it she asks the lover to “leave and go quietly” as to no longer disturb or distort her sense of self any longer.
After “Creep,” comes “Baby,” a laid-back 80s synth pop reminiscent song about Tei Shi getting bored with her lover. She is not receiving the attention she’d like and is getting frustrated by her lover’s lacking efforts to continue courting her as if they were just beginning. Something is off with her lover but even so she still wants them in her life, at least for now.
Tei Shi wishes she could reverse back to the fun times and wake her lover up to make them see that if they don’t change soon, everything is over. On the other hand, if they feel the pain of the fall out, she’ll stop it just to spare them hard feelings.
“How Far” is a tune all about trying to change your lover and/or yourself while in a relationship, and the point before the realization that it will most likely not happen, especially if the two of you are not being honest with each other.
Tei Shi goes on to say “It pleases you to say you’re sorry when you’re not/It’s a dangerous slip of the tongue” because if the apology is not true, then no matter how good it feels to say it, it’s a lie. Once the lie surfaces, it will deplete the trust that those in the relationship had, which is worse if you’re promising to change for someone. The talk of “I hate this about myself too, I promise you I’ll change” is a particular foolish conversation if you don’t mean it.
The next track on Crawl Space is another clip from Tei Shi as a child proclaiming she’s a bad singer and can’t do anything right. This ties almost directly back to the insecurities of thinking of oneself as bad or wrong, but hoping for change.
“Say You Do” goes into the topic of having a lover that doesn’t really know who you are as a person, and you don’t want to show them.
“The heat of the moment” is the only time they’re truly yours and when you’re truly theirs, but once the moment passes, neither of you are the attentive, caring lover you just were. They may tell you something about yourself as if they’re being profound, they may hold you close and passionately, they may even say they love you, but genuinely they don’t know what they’re talking about because you never want to open up, despite desiring nothing more.
“I just wanted you to hear this, everybody else in the world/I’m a bad singer, I confess it/And I’m the hell of the bad girl.” Another clip opens up and leads into a very different sounding song, one which begs for validation.
“Justify” is intense and repetitive, such as intrusive thoughts are in the heads of individuals who don’t believe they are good enough. In this song, Tei Shi is begging her lover, the listener, anybody, to justify her in any and every way she can think of. She is literally screaming for validation.
“Lift Me” holds a very special place in my heart, and holds a great place in the order of the album just after “Justify.”
Tei Shi exposes self reflection and how unpleasant it can be, to the point where one would rather have someone else do it for them. Let’s face it, if you are not trained in practicing positive personal thoughts, it is laborious to look within yourself with an objective light. Tei Shi wants someone to teach her how to be her own friend, answer her questions about herself, and lift her up from the dark runt of self rejection.
In “Como Si,” Tei Shi sings a tune that pulls on the heartstrings, in spanish. The song brings a variety of simile and metaphor to the listener’s ear. Seemingly about a lover who is overbearing, Tei Shi asks to be released from their grasp and from the love that turns her cold to the world.
“Pasan los dias y pesan las noches”, which means “the days go by and the nights go heavy” in english, is the driving message of this piece–one must evaluate the time they spend to understand why the nights are so heavy.
A change of tempo come with the next song in Crawl Space. “Crawl” is an upbeat fun sounding warning to all too caught up in appearances and what happens after all of the fun runs out, when they should be worrying about themselves.
Tei Shi warns them, to get what they want, they first have to struggle–if there is no struggle, how would it feel to succeed? Would it be as satisfying? Probably not.
Crystal clear sound, chill vibe, head-bopping tempo, “Year 3k” is just excellent. Tei Shi is an apathetic ex-lover, almost amused by the lengths that her former love would go to get her back. The blase tone the lyrics take on this track reveals to the listener the extent in which she no longer cares for this person. Cold.
“Your World” is a more challenging topic to analyze than that of clear-cut “Year 3k.” There are a limited amount of lyrics in this track, but the feeling is all the same.
Tei Shi describes, through predominantly musical emphasis, what it is to be molded by what someone else wants of you, and finally realizing you do not have to follow their guidelines. Someone can put thoughts into your head, fit you into a nice neat cut-out of their preferred object, and punish you for breaking their rules–but if you decide to break through and no longer believe the brainwashing, then you are free.
Fed up with the emotional hold people have on her, helpless at trying to shake their negative impact on her mental space, Tei Shi’s last song on Crawl Space, “Sleepy,” is utterly stunning.
The climax of the story of this emotional rollercoaster has been reached. Pain clearly present in her voice, Tei Shi belts out a ballad of near surrender. From the sheer amount of pressure, emotion busts out of every syllable of every word.
At the end of her wits, she yearns to forget the world, forget the grip the past has on her, forget herself, and just rest. But the bravado in her voice tells us the story is not over, but just about to begin. At her breaking point, she is finally ready to charge forward.
Crawl Space is an album for anyone feeling lost but full of potential. Through acrobatic vocals, moving lyrics, and expert musical dramatics, Tei Shi has brought us to the end of the journey, knowing it is only the beginning.
The message that Tei Shi ultimately leaves us with is wherever you are, however you feel about yourself, that even when it feels like you want to give up, even if it feels like you have no control over what is happening, even if it feel like your world is falling apart, know that a phoenix rises from its own ashes and so will you. And, if you’re afraid of the dark, lock yourself in a crawl space.