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U TOTEM

RIO/Avant-Prog • United States


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U Totem biography
U TOTEM were the avant-rock supergroup that combined members from 5UU'S and MOTOR TOTEMIST GUILD. The band just released two albums "U Totem" and "Strange Attractors". The original line up was Emily Hay (voice, flute, piccolo); Sanjay Kumar (piano, electric keyboards, sitar) Eric Johnson (bassoon, contrabassoon, soprano sax) James Grigsby (guitar, bass, vibraphone, tapes) and David Kerman (drums, percussion, tapes). Both records have many similarities with the music of Henry Cow, John Cage, Conlon Nancarrow, Frank Zappa and even Univers Zero.

U TOTEM are a great example of the RIO / avant garde genre. The use of instruments as piccolo, sitar, and sax instead the classic rock instruments makes their music something very close to a soundtrack (a very dark a surrealistic one) and reaches high points of emotion and musical poetry. Highly recommended to any RIO fan.

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U TotemU Totem
Cuneiform 1995
Audio CD$10.01
$9.97 (used)
Strange AttractorStrange Attractor
Cuneiform 1995
Audio CD$10.54
$6.69 (used)
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4.28 | 66 ratings
U Totem
1990
4.05 | 20 ratings
Strange Attractors
1994

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U TOTEM Reviews


Showing last 10 reviews only
 Strange Attractors  by U TOTEM album cover Studio Album, 1994
4.05 | 20 ratings

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Strange Attractors
U Totem RIO/Avant-Prog

Review by ShW1

5 stars The lamb lies down on RIO

That was my impression after my first listening to this album. A Rock Opera, but a RIO one, which not deterred from using 20th century classical music elements, free tonality, unusual scales, a bit of minimalism and loop motifs, odd jazz passages, operatic/Cabaret singing, rhythm tricks and other characteristics of the avant/RIO music.

Later on, it begun to sound weird even to my ears. I can't point out exactly on the causes for this weirdness, maybe it's just too weird to explain! But after that I've made an effort and read the Novella that the music is related too, and finally it begun to click. And now I'm a great enthusiast, totally hooked and highly addicted.

The story jumps forward and backward in times and places. (Los Angeles, Tokyo, Taife are some locations). It's quite 'actioned', and holds light-crime, heavy crime, prostitution and some future technologies, while the future time is dated to 2012. It reminded me of the 'Pulp fiction' movie that apparently so the light AFTER the story has been written (also by James Grigsby, the composer). The track order in the album is not the same as the related episode order in the novella, so it's a time mixture upon time mixture, considering that the story itself does not developed in a chronological order. While I can't guarantee for the story quality, I can easily do so for the music.

James Grigsby mentioned, in a very interesting interview right here on PA, that he used many approaches to write the music for this script. One approach is text-singing. I mean, the DIRECT text taken straight from the Novella (that attached to the CD). It sounds different from lyrics that based on a song structure (even a complicated one, such as 'One nail draws another' from the previous U Totem album). It is highly recommended to listen to tracks such as 'Ginger tea' and 'Karucha shokku' that using this technics, while reading the text. The treatment would be totally different, and much dipper. Other approach that Grigsby mentioned is a musical theme per character, in the 'agent White fox' track (I didn't manage to find other examples of this approach). An instrumental Celtic tune with non-traditional rhythm shifts, along with funk/jazz sections. Emily Hay playing on piccolo in this track and it sounds remarkable. Join in are snare rolls, guitar and keyboards (unisoned with the piccolo), bass and some brass.

Other fascinating approach is represented in 'January sky'. James Grigsby himself read this chapter in a monotonous voice, accompanied with primitive, non-harmonic lines played on synthesizer, and constant drum hits strengthened with zurna and piano clusters. It might recall for Japanese theatre. Later on this Far East culture is confronted with a Christian religious chant, which suits so well to the related episode. This short piece ended by a baby cry (performed very realistically by Nigel Wilson, probably the infant-at-the-time son of Curt Wilson, engineer and vocalist).

The sound of this album is different from the sound of the U Totem previous s/t album, and it requires some time to get accustomed to. Instead of an acoustic-chamber ensemble, we get here much harder, harshness feeling, but not necessarily in a 'rock' way. It's not only due to the addition of a relatively more dominant electric guitar, played wisely by Steve Cade. Many rolls are 'loaded upon the shoulders' of keyboardist Sanjay Kumar. Emily Hay on flute and piccolo, and Eric Johnson on bassoon, are still there, but not as dominant as in the previous album. Kumar is a fantastic keyboardist, but still the keyboards sounds are dated to the 90's, and the modest production does not make it much different. There are some parts, especially on the 'movie screenplay' approach tracks (such as 'Chen gate' and 'Redskin') that scream for a real orchestra. I'm aware that this willingness of mine is not anchored in any realism at all, RIO efforts do not enjoy from huge budgets, (on the contrary), but nevertheless an orchestrated sound at some tracks would be very satisfying.

Members and instruments worth mentioning include band members and some guests. Emily Hay on vocals just elevates upon herself by singing, acting and providing nuances to the various rolls, characters, and moods. In addition, Kaori Kuboniwa sings in beautiful, sweet vocals, mainly the Japanese words. ('Karucha shokku' and 'Postcards'). There are some interesting percussion rolls, played by bongos (or alike) and cymbals, and some far-eastern sounds like gongs, and vibraphones/xylophones. A lot of computer effects and tapes are also brought into the table.

In all, one of the finest works from James Grigsby and his crew (I don't care much if It's called 'U Totem', 'Motor totemist guild' or whatever). The music is very dynamic and very diverse. The interplays between the various instruments are magnificent, and there is always something new to discover. Although the evident complexity, still there is a kind of catchiness and communicativeness that being kept throughout. In my first listenings, I've imagined it would end up as a 4 stars album, but meanwhile, the music had grown on me, and surpass the 4 stars scope. So the rating from me will be a well-deserved 5 stars. James Grigsby is one of the very few 'RIO giants' out there, and the crew is talented as hell. There are very few works in a similar quality in the RIO/progressive IMO, and the music is that good.

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 U Totem  by U TOTEM album cover Studio Album, 1990
4.28 | 66 ratings

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U Totem
U Totem RIO/Avant-Prog

Review by Warthur
Prog Reviewer

4 stars RIO-flavoured supergroup U Totem present a debut album which is rich in intriguing and eccentric musical diversions. You tend not to think of RIO as a subgenre in which there are many supergroups, but arguably what U Totem are doing here is analogous to the blending of Slapp Happy and Henry Cow that ultimately yielded projects like Art Bears and News From Babel. Boldly kicking off with the alarming One Nail Draws Another - a truly bizarre epic but also a curiously accessible entry point to U Totem's world - the album rattles through its 62 minutes with a minimum of filler and deserves to be investigated by any fan of avant-garde prog.

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 U Totem  by U TOTEM album cover Studio Album, 1990
4.28 | 66 ratings

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U Totem
U Totem RIO/Avant-Prog

Review by ShW1

5 stars a true fusion of 20th century classical with rock

(This review is written by Ann Arbor, and published in Amazon, in 2001. I've edited it just a bit to reflect more my opinions, but the differences are very minoric)

The album opens with a loud crash--a piano cluster accompanied by a drum hit. Pause. Two more crashes. Pause. Woodwinds and electronics start appearing through yet more crashes. Chromatic, Ligeti-like figurations appear. What's that-- tonality? Actually, yes, because U Totem's opening track, 'One Nail Draws Another' is practically a survey of the last five hundred years of Western music. 20th-century classical music is by far the biggest influence, of course, but there's also hard rock, a dash of prog, a bit of pseudo-Indian sitar music, quotes from 15th-century religious music, and even Broadway (singer Emily Hay sounds a little like a gentler Dagmar Krause, but a lot more like the Fibonaccis' Magie Song, so her voice has a very theatrical quality to it). Amazingly, composer James Grigsby manages to unify these disparate styles into a cohesive, complex, catchy and absolutely beautiful piece of music.

A word of explanation: U Totem is a colaboration between the 5uu's, led by Dave Kerman, and the Motor Totemist Guild, led by James Grigsby. The two take turns writing tracks for the album, so that the odd-numbered tracks are by Grigsby and the even-numbered tracks are by Kerman. (in fact the credit for Kerman's tracks goes also for some other band member's help - Sh). For those of you familiar with the 5uu's, Kerman's music here is pretty much business as usual, although more extended, less Yes-sounding (possibly due to the absence of Yes-head Bob Drake) and with a more classical sound due to the woodwinds. You get such typical Kermanisms as atonal rock-outs ('The Judas Goat'), vaguely equine-sounding electronic noises ('Two Looks at One End'), and long passages based on the careful, almost minimalistic manipulation of short motivic cells ('Both Your Houses'). However, there are also some real shocks, such as a truly bizarre passage in 'Both Your Houses' in which ex-UU Curt Wilson sings a lush, refined melody while Emily Hay shrieks uncontrollably far in the background.

Good though Kerman's music may be here, the album is really stolen by Grigsby. I've already mentioned the 15-minute opener 'One Nail Draws Another', and almost as impressive is the equally long 'Vagabonds Home', whose apparent aimlessness resolves after a few listens into a beautiful motivically-integrated piece whose flirtations with tonality are made all the more powerful by the way they fade back into the atonal language that is the norm on this album. The brief 'Dance of the Awkward' sounds pretty much like what you might expect, and 'Yellow Umbrella Gallery' is a setting of texts in multiple languages about "pretentious, highfalutin' ideas about what's artistic" sampled, Negativland-like, over a shimmering and unsettling groove laid out by the rock instruments and built on by the classical ones. So, 4 stars for Kerman, 5 for Grigsby, and 4.5 for the overall whole.

A bit of buying advice: If you're coming from a rock/prog direction and curious about the "new RIO" bands, I'd advise you to check out Thinking Plague and the 5uu's first--those bands are really rock with a strong modern-classical influence, whereas this seems more like modern classical music with a strong rock influence. If you're already a fan of those bands and want more of a challenge, you should definitely check this out--it requires more listens and more careful attention, but it grows on you with each listen. (It's still growing on me, in fact.) And if you like 20th-century classical music, you owe it to yourself to listen to this avant-rock masterpiece.

This is Ann's review. Few words from me: the cooperation between Grigsby and Kerman is phenomenal, the execution and musicianship is excellent, and particulary I'd like to mention the very well flute playing from Emily Hay, and the excellent basson playing from Eric Johnson. And of course Emily's singing but I didn't say something new here. My favourite is 'Vagabonds Home' by Grigsby, and close to that is 'The Judas Goat' by Kerman and Kumar. My rating is 4.5 stars, as well as the entire review, but I'm not sure that for the same reasons. Anyway I'll put it on 5 stars here, this is an essential listening for all RIO enthusiasts wherever they are, me included of course.

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 U Totem  by U TOTEM album cover Studio Album, 1990
4.28 | 66 ratings

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U Totem
U Totem RIO/Avant-Prog

Review by SaltyJon
Special Collaborator Honorary Collaborator

5 stars Over summer, I went a bit purchase crazy, especially with RIO/Avant groups. Among a pretty wide variety of groups I decided to check out was this one. The only member who I recognized from the group initially was Dave Kerman, drummer extraordinaire who has played with a ton of RIO/Avant groups over the years. I heard a live version of "One Nail Draws Another" on Youtube (thanks to James Grigsby for uploading it himself) and I was pretty instantly hooked. Nearly everything about that composition really grabbed me right away, and the real clincher was Emily Hay's vocals. From first listen, I essentially fell in love with her voice (and the track as a whole, and as it went on the album as a whole). The studio version of that track sounds even better, thanks to the extra vocals and tighter overall atmosphere (though they pull this stuff of pretty perfectly live as well). The track displays a TON of stylistic variation, and keeps moving throughout its 15-minute lifespan. The group certainly started off strong with this track, and it's undoubtedly my favorite on the album (and one of my favorite tracks from any album).

The rest of the album keeps up the intensity/creativity. Whether it's tracks like "Two Looks at One End" with its unusual, sometimes eerie use of taped material, the short and bizarre instrumental "Dance of the Awkward" or any of the other tracks, these musicians are displaying their chops/compositional abilities pretty heavily, not to mention the incredibly wide variety of influences they have. There are hints of just about everything in here from modern avant-classical to Indian classical music, to chamber music and (of course) rock and jazz, not to mention just about everything in between. The members of this group came partly from 5UU's and partly from Motor Totemist Guild, so they are sort of an early "supergroup" of the American RIO/Avant scene. I for one am very glad they came together, because this has become a favorite album of mine.

Definitely check this one out if you want a good example of what the American RIO sounds like, or if you're a fan of avant music in general. Give it some time to grow if it doesn't hit you instantly - some tracks weren't as instant of a success for me as the opener, but I love the entire album now. I consider this album a masterpiece.

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 Strange Attractors  by U TOTEM album cover Studio Album, 1994
4.05 | 20 ratings

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Strange Attractors
U Totem RIO/Avant-Prog

Review by Mellotron Storm
Prog Reviewer

4 stars For those who don't know, U TOTEM were a super group of sorts in the Rio / Avant world as it combined 5UU'S with MOTOR TOTEMIST GUILD. This was their second and so far final studio album. Their self titled debut is somewhat of a classic in the genre and my favourite of the two but All Music Guide has this to say about this second recording."Of all James Grigsby's productions,"Strange Attractors" is the work he will be remembered for.This album, weaved on a complex story line jumping back and forth from 1957 to 1985 to 2012, contains some of the best music Avant-progressive had to offer in the 1990's...a classic." Wayside Music suggests that this album's complexity is more subtle than the debut's which makes this even more impressive when these pieces finally "click" in your brain. And I can vouch for that as it took many listens to finally start to appreciate what was going on here. The short story that Grigsby wrote to which this album is based on is included in the booklet which is cool to say the least. So James wrote all the lyrics and composed all the music here. Emily Hay adds vocals and flute, Grigsby plays guitar and bass, Dave Kerman on drums, Sanjay Kumar on keyboards, Eric Johnson on bassoon and Steve Cade on guitar.There are many guests helping out as well.

"No Mo Ippon" gets us started and this song changes tempos a lot. "Daikon Batake" features horns, flute and outbursts of piano and percussion. "Ginger Tea" introduces us to the vocals for the first time from Emily. I like how the vocals and instrumental parts work together. She ends the song with the words "I doubt i'll see her again". "Another June Sky" opens with a very interesting soundscape. I like it. Experimental with keys and horns (I think). It picks up before 2 1/2 minutes as the drums join in. "Karucha Shokku" opens with lots of piano then the vocals come in after a minute and they're almost spoken. Horns a minute later.

"January Sky" has these spoken male words and avant music. Female words come in as they converse. "Purple Smoke" has so much going on and to be honest I have no idea what i'm hearing (haha). It settles 2 1/2 minutes in as it turns eerie. It's building. Great sound here. "Tipps' 911" is a short but amazing instrumental. "Agent White Fox" opens with the sound of a helicopter then we get a celtic vibe briefly. It turns dissonant then that vibe returns. "Chen's Gate" has the sound of frogs before a minute with atmosphere. It turns haunting followed by chamber music. "Postcard" has vocals and a brighter mood and it's upbeat as well. "Redskin" is a really cool sounding tune as drums, piano, horns and other sounds come and go. "Another Ginger tea" is dark and intricate Chamber-like music. What an incredible way to end this album.

A solid 4 stars for this challenging affair.

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 U Totem  by U TOTEM album cover Studio Album, 1990
4.28 | 66 ratings

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U Totem
U Totem RIO/Avant-Prog

Review by progressive

5 stars Fine symphonic avant-prog, and maybe my even most favourite album.

I usually don't care so much about the sound, but in this record it's truly satisfying (well, not so much in some parts), especially warm woodwind and the vocals. This band is also innovative and progressive and. much! Bright but doomy! Compact but sporadic!

One Nail Draws Another (1. / 14:58) starts quite dramatically and soon is HENRY COW coming into my mind. Songs like "Living In The Heart Of The Beast" and "Beautiful As The Moon - Terrible As An Army With Banners" (by HC) and "House Of Ash" (by THE RED MASQUE). This is epic dark avant-prog. Add some sudden noises, PRESENT (and other chamber rock) and orchestral classical music and polyphonic choir. And the melodies are very nice, carrying through those irrational parts.

Two Looks at One End (2. / 7:03) starts more upbeaten - cheerful psychedelic avant-pop. Even some circus elements, like it's common in avant-garde music - but not irritating or obvious in this case. Well, this is also like KING CRIMSON and RUNAWAY TOTEM's darker songs and the happier parts come suddenly between more ambient noise parts. Actually I don't like so much moment when there's pre-referring to Vagabonds Home (7.).

Dance of the Awkward (3. / 2:24) is playfully clumsy little instrumental, quite typical avant-prog, but I don't actually like it.

Both Your Houses (4. / 7:52) has quite mysterious and weird melody (and quite long - I've noticed it while humming it) that starts nicely powerfully. This kind of weird music I am and have been longing for. Later, there's powerful instrumentation and screaming, also softer parts. First the melody was like introducing me into a secret world, but now the world happened to be family hell (actually I don't listen the lyrics - this is what comes into my mind), and the starter melody turns to very emotional played after that.

Yellow Umbrella Gallery (5. / 5:10) has much some speaking voices and crowds, and a bit psychedelic and making me numb (also the length of the song), but I don't mind. This is not bad music and doesn't spoil the overall experience.

The Judas Goat (6. / 10:07). I'm not so keen on the sound (or some things in it) in those more rocking (but don't you dare to think it's rock) parts in the quite beginning and in the end. Anyway, the female vocals are great and dramatic and there's mellow dark song building here, reminding me of "Possessed" by THINKING PLAGUE. PS The song ends some psychedelia a bit similar to OZRIC TENTACLES.

Vagabonds Home (7. / 14:46). Like the first song, this is very good. Dynamic and catchy. Very great structures and this is just lovely. Sometimes reminds me of KENSO's songs that are also suitable for children's movies (maybe these are not so much background music but more like theme music). The ending is quite repetitive and long (but I like it and it fades away nicely) and actually these song structures are a bit weird, so there's no so much diversity in some scales.

All but third and fifth songs are very great. And you MUST get this if you're into avant-prog, but I recommend this very warmly for everyone who wants to see what prog can do.

It is a pity that there is very little music like this, if there even is.

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 U Totem  by U TOTEM album cover Studio Album, 1990
4.28 | 66 ratings

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U Totem
U Totem RIO/Avant-Prog

Review by Mellotron Storm
Prog Reviewer

4 stars 4.5 stars. I admit I had a tough time with this one but perseverance has paid off. This band is a combination of the 5UU's and MOTOR TOTEMIST GUILD. It's funny but now I don't understand what took me so long to appreciate this beautiful piece of work.

"One Nail Draw's Another" opens with various sounds with no real melody until after a minute. Drums, female vocals and sax provide that melody with piano joining in. Dissonant sounds before the song kicks in with about a minute of heaviness before various sounds come and go. Some cool vocal arrangements 5 1/2 minutes in, with lots of piano 3 minutes later. Those vocal arrangements are back 10 minutes in. I'm not a fan of the female vocals after 11 1/2 minutes as various sounds end it. "Two Looks At One End" opens with an uptempo melody with vocals that comes back later on. The rest is slower paced with different instrumental sounds coming and going. "Dance Of The Awkward" is an instrumental with piano, drums and flute leading the way. Horns late.

"Both Your Houses" features female vocals, vibraphone, percussion and horns. Someone is screaming and the male vocals sound so smooth. The drumming by Kerman is great later on. Mournful flute ends this my favourite song off of this album. Meaningful lyrics in this one as well. "Yellow Umbrella Gallery" has different people taking turns speaking as various instruments are played. "The Judas Goat" is a 10 minute track that opens with flute and horns. It kicks in before 1 1/2 minutes. Female vocals 3 minutes in with drums and piano. The song continues along without vocals until 7 1/2 minutes when they return with some strange sounds. A full sound follows becoming quite heavy. Nice. "Vagabonds Home" features many tempo changes with many sounds coming and going. Female vocals before 5 minutes. A solo flute melody 7 1/2 minutes in. The song starts to come to life 9 minutes in. Vibraphone, drums and the return of vocals create this life. A nice melody follows. Strange sounds to end it.

The playing is beyond incredible and I couldn't help but think of THINKING PLAGUE with the female vocals. A very special album.

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 U Totem  by U TOTEM album cover Studio Album, 1990
4.28 | 66 ratings

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U Totem
U Totem RIO/Avant-Prog

Review by avestin
Special Collaborator Honorary Collaborator

5 stars A Revelation.

Ever had one of those?

I had a few during my life; most occurred during dark, depressing or desperate times; others happened while listening to specific albums.

One such album was this one.

This revelation consists of the understanding that imagination and daring to explore are one of the great human traits; Understanding that music, at its most beautiful, whether complex or simple, can be a healer, a comforting friend, a motivator; Understanding that music can be a reason to live for, a purpose in life, a cause to get up in the morning and keep on living despite hardship.

Musicians from 5UU's and Motor Totemist Guild came together to create this masterpiece of an album and joined by other session musicians to complete the sound. I am having hard time expressing just how wonderful and special I find this album to be. It is one of those albums I feel a sort of catharsis while listening to it and want to start it over again when it ends. However, I feel un-equipped and not knowledgeable enough to write about this, but since I love this album so much, I'll give it a try and please forgive any mistake or nonsense I might write.

Instrumentation - Abundant and varied instrumentation makes this album a delight to listen to; so rich and smooth is the sound, along with Emily Hay's vocals. Saxophones, flute, piccolo, bassoon, contrabassoon, sitar, piano, vibraphone, guitar, bass, drums, percussion and the use of tape recordings - all those play the music, making it lively and special. Not only the type of music, the influences on composition, but the type of instruments are a look back at their influences which are I would guess 20 century composers (I am not an expert on this at all, but having read about and listened to some I would assume this is the case; Stravinsky would probably be one) and previous chamber rock groups.

The music has been said to be a mélange of 20th century classical music, avant-garde, rock, chamber music all mixed to an end result that is the special sound of U Totem. Well, yes but how to translate the greatness of this album into words? Complex, very well played, sophisticated and compelling, the music never ceases to amaze me. Just listen to "Both Your Houses" and how all the instruments combine together while the rhythm goes on. Not only shown by the complexity, the progressiveness of the music is shown also in how they ornament the songs with the instruments; in the intervals which are filled with the occasional "odd" sounds, atonal parts or "experiments"; they drift away with each song from the main theme to explore the grounds. Each song is cleverly orchestrated, maneuvered through the gushing waters, from one part where the classical instruments lead the way, into other parts, where the more "modern" rock instruments take over. With all this going about, the beauty is kept, the connecting musical thread is always there and the magic is never lost. The repetitive part in "Both Your Houses" around the fourth minute (before and after Emily screams her heart out in the background) is a fantastic example of how to play the same theme and make it sound great by changing the instruments and using whatever comes to mind (and using slightly different scales to create a seeming disharmony). Brilliant!

Take for instance "One Nail Draws Another" with its almost 15 minutes. It goes through so many different parts, uses so many elements of their influences, and yet there is not one boring moment, there is continuous movement, and constant progression while going back to visit the same themes as the song goes. Emily's vocals and the male opera-like vocals joining in the middle add to the richness already found in this song.

"Two Looks At One End" and Yellow Umbrella Gallery show their more modern influences, their avant-garde and quirky side (as if it wasn't enough as it is) and their use of the tape recordings and manipulation of the keyboards. Engaging and dynamic, weird and sometimes disharmonic, these pieces are enriched with the seemingly random use of the recorded sounds and voices and Emily's vocals (on that first track of the two).

Another thing to praise here is that each song is easily identifiable and different than the others. I don't sense a repetitiveness and yet the collection of songs and tracks fit very well together; each song brings its own approach (however slightly or not-so- slightly different than the others), making this collection of 7 songs feel as a whole - meaning, this feels like an album, and not like a collection put together.

This album might lead you to the US side of avant-rock/chamber-rock, if you haven't "visited" these realms already. Both the "donating" bands to U Totem are obvious bands to explore (although I much prefer this group or project), as well as Thinking Plague, whose In Extremis I think draws somewhat of an influence from this album.

To sum up, this is one of my all-time favourites. An album as rich in sound as it is special, complex, intriguing, thrilling, stimulating, exciting and whatever other adjectives you may want to add to it. Their sound mingling together music by 20th century composers, chamber rock and avant-garde is one that I treasure, and find beautiful, compelling. It was a revelation the first time I heard it; being struck by the combination of complexity, oddity and beauty, realizing how fantastic music can be when musicians take it to a ride through their wild imaginations and perform for us their vision.

Honestly, my words cannot do justice enough to this fabulous album and these fine musicians and composers. Reading this, I feel I have failed to pass on what goes through my mind when listening to this and more importantly what the music actually sounds like and how great it is. So I'll simply say that if you are a follower of this type of music, this is a must have album. If you are interested in checking this type of music, but don't yet feel comfortable enough in it or are new entirely, I would start elsewhere, and save this to later on when you can appreciate it fully and without trying to adjust to this type of music. It might take the pleasure of the album. But this is a mandatory stop station in your excursions throughout the avant-rock/chamber-rock (or whatever you want to call it) realm.

A must have!

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 U Totem  by U TOTEM album cover Studio Album, 1990
4.28 | 66 ratings

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U Totem
U Totem RIO/Avant-Prog

Review by Sean Trane
Special Collaborator Prog Folk

4 stars 4.5 stars really!!

First album what is often regarded as a "supergroup" (even if the notion if RIO is rather inept, because musicians in that realm cannot be considered as popular stars) and easily their better one. UT was obviously well entrenched in the now-solid American branch of RIO with Thinking Plague, Frith's New World adventures and 5UU etc. Printed on a luxurious paper but sober presentation (a typical Cuneiform product of those days), the booklet and artwork, the self-titled debut album is a bit of a condensed RIO/chamber prog résumé, presenting most of the more representative side of the movement.

Starting out like a madman out of his cage, the album is off to a completely wild and atonal (ala John Cage) intro of the 15-min One Nail Draws Another, before Emily's singing and James' guitar makes the track come back on traditional grounds (if you can talk of U Totem in terms of traditional), with many other influences interfacing and interlocking among which Henry Cow, Frank Zappa and Univers Zero (or Present to make the Kerman connection). This formation is incredibly tight and all musicians excel at their craft, but I'd like to point out Kerman's fantastic drumming and Johnsson's impressive wind instruments between Lindsey Cooper and Michel Berckmans, while Emily Hay's voice (and her flute parts) is simply dashing. But all is not perfect and Yellow Umbrella Gallery is a little too much nonsense for this writer, while the ingestion of the whole album (lasting over an hour) might prove a little arduous, because of some repetitions.

Exactly the type of album that confirmed that prog's supposed lean years in some departments were among the strongest in the Opposition, picking up the slack when Univers Zero was down for the count. This album is easily in my top 5 of that year and most likely in the top 20 of the decade. I will cite another reviewer here: "UT were what Henry Cow wanted to be!" Even if only for this album alone, that is not far removed from the truth, if you eclipse the fact that UT is fairly derivative of HC and UZ.

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 Strange Attractors  by U TOTEM album cover Studio Album, 1994
4.05 | 20 ratings

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Strange Attractors
U Totem RIO/Avant-Prog

Review by progadicto

4 stars Wow! A surprising album... Another little jewel of Cuneiform. Very jazzy and avant garde, sometimes even symphonic. All the songs are great, specially "Ginger Tea", "Karucha Shokku", "Purple Smoke" and "Redskin". With influences of Soft Machine, Volapuk even PFS, the sound sometimes is very raw and sometimes is almost symphonic. Great work on percussions and wind instruments...

You have to get it!!

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Thanks to Ivan Avila for the artist addition.

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