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Tearist - Living: 2009-Present

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Artist: Tearist

Album: Living: 2009-Present

Label: Thin Wrist

Review date: Jun. 10, 2011

We’ve seen blood. We’ve seen private parts. We’ve seen dead animals. We’ve seen people climb on things, we’ve seen people jump off of things. We’ve seen actions executed with no regard for the safety of self or others. We’ve seen a man with drumsticks shoved up his ass. Hell, we’ve seen a bulldozer driven onto the stage from outside the club. It can easily feel like music audiences have witnessed just about everything when it comes to onstage adventures, that in a world that’s already witnessed G.G. Allin, Hantarash, and the cornball shock tactics of Gwar, there’s not much else a performer can do to raise an eyebrow.

Still, we have a lingering thing for the wild and crazy, the possessed, that sense that the person onstage has crossed over into some other mental realm. Exhibit A: Los Angeles duo Tearist. The live presence of vocalist Yasmine Kittles looms large in every discussion of the group, her intensity and abandon cited repeatedly as a must-see. In a perusal of live documentation available online, these eyes don’t spy anything too strikingly remarkable about the duo’s performances, but there’s undoubtedly a lot that YouTube can’t adequately impart. If the internet can’t replicate real life (there’s a first time for everything, right?), perhaps a live album can.

It’s not conventional to release a live compilation as a debut full-length, especially one as rough around the edges in terms of fidelity as this one. Living: 2009-Present culls nine live tracks from two years’ worth of shows around L.A., and the disc is rife with muddled acoustics, audience patter that’s almost as loud as the music, and plenty of distortion. But for a band whose live show is so much a part of its appeal, the collage seems appropriate, an attempt to approximate in some diluted way the live Tearist experience, to communicate whatever it is that has concertgoers so enthralled in the moment and speaking in revelatory tones once it’s passed.

Even without any visuals, Kittles is at the forefront: On the album’s dodgiest recordings, her voice punches through, the intelligibility of her lyrics often a casualty of war. And whatever the cynical among us might suppose about the authenticity of her fugue state transportation versus conscious, performance art playacting (she’s a fan of Artraud and an aspiring actress, after all), there’s no denying that the lady’s got some pretty powerful pipes. Offsetting the chaotic desperation of Kittles’ vocals are the synthesizers, sequencers, and drum machines of William Strangeland. Save for Kittles’ intermittently clanging metal, Strangeland is the entirety of the band’s instrumental sound, the anchor of constancy that tethers Kittles’ wildest forays. His appropriations of industrial music’s insistent propulsion, the darker sides of ’80s synth pop sensibilities, and club-ready rhythms are simple and cleanly executed; without Kittles in front of them, Strangeland’s sounds could sometimes be the backbone of a Top 40 dance hit. In fact, there are a handful of tracks, “Break Bone” and “Headless” among them, that wouldn’t feel out of place on more adventurous mainstream stations. Living’s sound quality, of course, tempers whatever potential these songs might have for widespread play, but it doesn’t obscure a facet of Tearist’s music that manages to almost slip past the listener more attentive to the band’s wilder side.

Behind Kittles’ husky exhortations and swells of echo-laden screams, underneath Strangeland’s more ominous glosses, there’s something fun going on. Danceable beats, simple, sometimes even cheery synth melodies, lyrical fragments ripe for screamed accompaniment and pumped fists: Living has them all, even if it’s the music’s darker and more mysterious tones take center stage.

This is what’s most interesting about Living. Unpacking the album, both in terms of content and form, provides more fodder than is apparent at first blush. This doesn’t imply that everyone’s going to be a convert to Tearist’s ways, but there is something real to the zeal the band has inspired.

By Adam Strohm

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