TSTI / Evaluations

a surprisingly intriguing record

Filed in Album Reviews | Released | By Rachel Williams

TSTI / Evaluations
(Desire Records)

Deep in an upstate New York bedroom studio, artist S. Smith set to work creating solo project TSTI. After years of isolation, a self released 4 song EP emerged before Smith returned to the bedroom studio to produce his first full length release, ‘Evaluations’. A dark homage to 80s synth pop, ‘Evaluations’ is steeped in the inspirations of the past, filled with hazy sounds and melodic harmonies, creating echoing soundscapes that reverberate through the 9 tracks.
Heavy on the synth and emotive vocals, album opener ‘In Loving Memory’ firmly places itself in the canon of 80s dark wave, wholeheartedly championing its revival. Yet while the sound is familiar, with nods to Depeche Mode and their dark wave contemporaries, TSTI stirs in his own diverse tastes to create a surprisingly intriguing record.
The seduction of ‘Queen of Swoons’ could, by some circles, be likened to the grinding beats of very early Nine Inch Nails but replacing Reznor’s gravelly vocals with Smith’s soaring melodic tones, the sound remains in the dark synth 80s. Each track is laden with drama as Smith creates intricately layered landscapes of analogue synthesisers, drum machines and distant soaring vocals. While the grit and growl I tend to enjoy from this darker breed of electronica, Smith’s grit reveals itself in the production, sacrificing a shiny finish for that self-made bedroom aesthetic. But it works, using this image of a lone-wolf artist to add to the pathos that exudes throughout some of the tracks.
‘Pull The Animal’s Teeth Out’ borders on anthemic, as multilayered vocal rides on minimal drums and characteristic synths while the melancholic tone of the vocal and the drone of the synthesiser combined with heavier beats in ‘This Damage is Magic’ and ‘Match to Friendship’, produce something primed and ready for industrial dancefloors. ‘Love & Truth’ looks more to the dreamier side of synth than the brooding of the other albums, creating a much more stripped back sound allowing Smith’s distinctive vocal to shine through. ‘Because You Told Me To’ mixes erratic drum beats with screeching pitches to create an aggression filled track, a more sinister and stark contrast from the ethereal presence that emanates throughout the rest of the album.
While ‘Evaluations’ clearly holds tight to the sounds of its inspirers, if this is what TSTI can produce in his bedroom, I would be intrigued to hear what would happen if he emerged out into the open and introduced the 80s nostalgia to what is happening in the underground NY electro pop scene...
Rachel Williams

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