Los Angeles-based Tearist, comprised of Yasmine Kittles (vocals and percussion) and William Strangeland-Menchaca (keyboards and electronics), know that minimalism never goes out of style.
As anyone who has seen their main sonic influence, CBGB’s vets Suicide, in recent years knows, the winning combination of vocals and keyboards somehow always sounds fresh and vital no matter the age of the practitioners. (When old fellas Suicide recently opened for the new kids on the block, MGMT, in New York, an excited young concertgoer asked me, “Who are these guys? They’re great. Do they have, like, albums out or anything?”)
Tearist take their New York predecessor’s synth-punk formula and give it a Los Angeles spin. For one thing, it’s a woman providing the vocals and echoplexed whoops a la Suicide’s Alan Vega and, no offense to Alan, but Kittles is a helluva lot sexier (in a West Coast, artsy kind of way) as she lurches around the stage undulating and banging on bits of “found percussion” during Tearist performances. This is an updated, non-macho, Left Coast version of Suicide, and I for one can’t wait to see what New York audiences make of them.
As if to prove their underground cred, Tearist eschew overt professionalism on their first major release, Living: 2009-Present (Thin Wrist Recordings). The lo-fi quality of the recording actually seems a plus, giving the music a grey, post-punk feel on tracks like “Headless” and “End Flux” that recall the sound of Joy Divison’s gritty Still.
Throughout, Kittles’ vocals veer between glossolalia, lyrical fragments, and the aforementioned Vega-styled echoed whoops and hollers. Strangeland-Menchaca lays down some killer grooves, conjuring sinister urban beats in “Lo V,” and some Can-influenced (circa Soon Over Babaluma) electro burbles in the simmering “Closest.” Cheekily, he even nicks the rhythm track from Suicide’s “Touch Me” for “End Flux.”
Some might find Tearist’s approach — along with Kittles’ idiosyncratic stage persona — a tad pretentious, but this critic is all for it. There is a terrible lack of true adventurism in today’s rock music, and altogether too many boring college-rock bands, sporting cutesy animal names filled with ironic-mustached boys clogging up the scene.
Call it neo-synth-punk; even call it “grave wave.” In today’s musical context, Tearist is a breath of fresh air — if you can say that about a band that hails from Los Angeles.
—Johnny “Gutter” Walker
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