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We love it when a plan comes together, when technology, skill and inspiration come to form music that sounds lifted directly from yesteryear. Mayer Hawthorne’s sneering version of soul, Boards of Canada’s future primitives, The Black Keys continuing garage rock’s two-man tradition—imitation, sincere flattery, blah blah blah. New to the list of great pretenders is S. Smith and his TSTI project out of Schenectady, New York. Evaluations, the first TSTI LP, sounds like it’s the work of some long-dead European industrial group.
This of course is not the case. Evaluations is a Bandcamp release conceived and created this year. But with eyes closed, it feels like it’s calmly rooting around the underground of dark electronic pop, consuming what it can from three decades and countless subgenres. “Because You Told Me To” is the most aggro and complex track here, from its acid-house loops to Smith mimicking Tones on Tail’s classic “Go!” soundbite. “In Loving Memory,” in particular the drumless mix closing the album, finds Smith’s comfort zone of M83 vocals paired with early Depeche Mode detachment.
By overdubbing his different vocal registers, spanning a wide set of sample banks and showing off considerable pluck in his arrangements, Smith makes TSTI seem much bigger than a solo project. Of course there are moments on Evaluations where the limitations of bedroom production show through, when you wish the climaxes in “Match to Friendship” would explode with a bit more oomph. Yet TSTI’s proud brandishing of love for legacy labels like Mute, Projekt and Metropolis suggests enough promise to merit more time in larger studios.