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Direct Link To This Post Topic: U Totem - s/t
    Posted: October 28 2007 at 10:47
U TOTEM - U Totem
 
Cuneiform Rune 24
 

Track Listings

1. One Nail Draws Another (14:54)
2. Two Looks at One End (6:57)
3. Dance of the Awkward (2:18)
4. Both Your Houses (7:49)
5. Yellow Umbrella Gallery (5:04)
6. The Judas Goat (10:01)
7. Vagabonds Home (14:46)

Total Time: 62:23

Line-up/Musicians

- Emily Hay / voice, flute, piccolo
- Sanjay Kumar / piano, electric keyboards, sitar
- Eric Johnson / bassoon, contrabassoon, soprano sax
- James Grigsby / guitar, bass, vibraphone, tapes
- David Kerman / drums, percussion, tapes

Additional musicians:
- Kaoru / voice
- Howard Shepard / voice
- Maria Moran / guitar
- Becky Heninger / cello
- Herb Diamant / soprano sax
- Curt Wilson / voice
- Greg Conway / guitar
- Georgia Grigsby / voice
- Rod Poole / guitar
- Daev Lizmi / guitar
- Miriam Meyer / violin

 
 

U TOTEM — U Totem

Review by avestin (Assaf Vestin)
SPECIAL COLLABORATOR Zeuhl/RIO/Avant Team

4%20stars 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.

For PA rating purposes: 4.5-4.9 stars. A must have!

Posted Sunday, September 30, 2007, 15:52 EST | Permanent link

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
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Direct Link To This Post Posted: October 28 2007 at 12:13
One of the best American Avant-Prog albums I've heard! Clap Highly recommended!


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Direct Link To This Post Posted: October 28 2007 at 13:18
Great, great album! I haven't got time to listen to it more than a few times though, but based on these listening I can safely say that it's excellent!
RIO/AVANT/ZEUHL - The best thing you can get with yer pants on!
EXERIOR Experimental tech/death/progmetal from Norway!
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Direct Link To This Post Posted: October 28 2007 at 16:02
If you like this album, may I suggest Motor Totemist Guild's City Of Mirrors? It is not the same thing, but has very much a similar sound and maintains the use of 20th century classical music (which is part of what MTG brought to the U Totem album I presume as I hear this influence of theirs quite heavily in U Totem).
 
 
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Direct Link To This Post Posted: October 28 2007 at 16:12
I love all the different Totem bands. Everyone into this must check out Non Credo  starting Happy Wretched Family.
Over land and under ashes
In the sunlight, see - it flashes
Find a fly and eat his eye
But don't believe in me
Don't believe in me
Don't believe in me
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Direct Link To This Post Posted: October 28 2007 at 17:08
Originally posted by Rocktopus

I love all the different Totem bands. Everyone into this must check out Non Credo  starting Happy Wretched Family.
 
Excellent suggestion.
 
 
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Direct Link To This Post Posted: October 28 2007 at 17:33
Originally posted by avestin

U TOTEM — U Totem

Review by avestin (Assaf Vestin)
SPECIAL COLLABORATOR Zeuhl/RIO/Avant Team

4%20stars A Revelation.

Amazing, perfect, essential, etc., etc., etc.

 
Why did you not give this 5 stars?! I didn't note a single scrape of negativity in that review. Even if it did only deserve 4.5-4,9, that still rounds up to 5 Tongue
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Direct Link To This Post Posted: October 28 2007 at 17:43
I must confess I still have not heard this album, I feel quite the fool
“If there is one question I dread, to which i have never been able to invent a satisfactory reply, it is the question what am I doing.”
-Samuel Beckett
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Direct Link To This Post Posted: October 28 2007 at 17:58
怒!!! AngryAngryAngryAngryAngryAngryAngryAngryAngryAngryAngryAngryAngry!!!!
Though I ordered it at HMV Japan on September 24, it doesn't arrive to me, yet!!!! So I can't hear the masterpiece! Cry Do I have to cancel it, and should reorder at other shop....? I'll wait till November 1.
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Direct Link To This Post Posted: October 28 2007 at 18:02
Originally posted by Black Velvet

I must confess I still have not heard this album, I feel quite the fool
 
No way you're a fool, you're like a walking encyclopedia of all things experimental...  One album doesn't take that away from you.
 
 
 
 
Originally posted by honganji

怒!!! AngryAngryAngryAngryAngryAngryAngryAngryAngryAngryAngryAngryAngry!!!!
Though I ordered it at HMV Japan on September 24, it doesn't arrive to me, yet!!!! So I can't hear the masterpiece! Cry Do I have to cancel it, and should reorder at other shop....? I'll wait till November 1.
 
That is very annoying! I have a similar situation right now with two albums I ordered.
 
 
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Direct Link To This Post Posted: October 29 2007 at 00:02
Originally posted by avestin

Originally posted by Black Velvet

I must confess I still have not heard this album, I feel quite the fool
 
No way you're a fool, you're like a walking encyclopedia of all things experimental...  One album doesn't take that away from you.


An oxymoron, perchance... wisely foolish? ;) Any chance a sample might be heading in my general direction?

.... ingenious cover, by the way, does it come in vinyl?



Edited by Black Velvet - October 29 2007 at 00:09
“If there is one question I dread, to which i have never been able to invent a satisfactory reply, it is the question what am I doing.”
-Samuel Beckett
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Direct Link To This Post Posted: October 29 2007 at 04:18
I agree this is a great album.   One Nail Draws Another has to be one of the best progressive rock songs ever composed.    Beautiful, complex, rich playing from all concerned.    
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Direct Link To This Post Posted: October 29 2007 at 07:08
I've ordered the CD on the strength of this review, can't wait to hear it!
"The disgusting stink of a too-loud electric guitar.... Now, that's my idea of a good time."
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Direct Link To This Post Posted: December 30 2007 at 18:58
Both U Totem albums are brilliant, but I have a particular thing for the debut -- it's beyond good; it's sublime.  I actually waited too long before I got the album, I had it in my head that US progressive music was less of a priority than other countries.  That and the name is just so reminiscent of Universal Totem Orchestra (and Runaway Totem to a lesser extent).  I actually like U Totem even more than 5UU's and Motor Totemists Guild (which are both excellent).  What a super group.

I hadn't noticed this thread before when I bumped an older U Totem thread, but having recently acquired the excellent Strange Attractors, I wanted to bump this too.

Just to add the other reviews from this site...

U TOTEM — U Totem
Review by sinkadotentree (john davie)
Prog Reviewer

3%20stars I admit i had a tough time with this one.Maybe i shouldn't have been too surprised as i'm not a big fan of the 5UU's either.This band is a combination of the 5UU's and MOTOR TOTEMIST GUILD.I hate to say anything negative about it when it's held in such high esteem by most who have heard it. "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 as 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. Obviously the playing is excellent,but what they have created is only good in my opinion. 3.5 stars.


Posted Monday, October 29, 2007, 23:23 EST

U TOTEM — U Totem
Review by Sean Trane (Hugues Chantraine)
Special Collaborator Prog-Folk Specialist

4%20stars 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.

Posted Friday, May 25, 2007, 04:35 EST
Review Permanent link | Submit a review for this album

U%20TOTEM%20Strange%20Attractors%20%20progressive%20rock%20album%20and%20reviews RIO/Avant-Prog
(Studio Album, 1994)
Avg: 3.75/5
from 2 ratings
U TOTEM — Strange Attractors
Review by progadicto (Ivan Avila)

4%20stars 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!!

Posted Tuesday, July 26, 2005, 13:44 EST

U%20TOTEM%20U%20Totem%20%20progressive%20rock%20album%20and%20reviews RIO/Avant-Prog
(Studio Album, 1990)
Avg: 4.06/5
from 11 ratings
U TOTEM — U Totem
Review by Cappa

4%20stars This album was my introduction to the US side of RIO. I am now a monster fan of other bands in this circle like Thinking Plague and Motor Totemist Guild. This album in particular was just different for some reason. I have not heard it in several months but I can say the ideas are very fresh even now. The synthetic approach with the modern day keyboards does not slow down the quality and drive of this music. Solid drumming from Dave Kerman AS USUAL. Kerman is the man when it comes to drums in RIO. Chris Cutler is the Sifu and Dave Kerman is the student... even though Kerman is pretty much on level ground with Cutler now. Anyway... this is an excellent record and it holds the mantle of RIO high in the sky! Great stuff!

Posted Wednesday, September 01, 2004


vidalaac@terr
4%20stars Excelente RIO (Rock In Oposition) band, following the likes of the British prog rockers Henry Cow. This is their first album and an impressive one at that, recomende for anyone interested in progressive rock at its best.

Posted Saturday, April 24, 2004






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Direct Link To This Post Posted: December 30 2007 at 19:18
Originally posted by Sckxyss

Originally posted by avestin

U TOTEM ? U Totem

Review by avestin (Assaf Vestin)
SPECIAL COLLABORATOR Zeuhl/RIO/Avant Team

4%20stars A Revelation.

Amazing, perfect, essential, etc., etc., etc.

 
Why did you not give this 5 stars?! I didn't note a single scrape of negativity in that review. Even if it did only deserve 4.5-4,9, that still rounds up to 5 Tongue
 
 
Indeed it doesTongue
 
Essential = 5 stars on PAWink
 
 
 
 
RIO/AVANT/ZEUHL - The best thing you can get with yer pants on!
EXERIOR Experimental tech/death/progmetal from Norway!
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Direct Link To This Post Posted: December 30 2007 at 19:23
I have a problem giving albums a five star rating (and there are a few minor things I don't like about it, so... but still). But this is indeed one album that deserves it.
A sublime album! Get it, get it, get it!
 
 
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Direct Link To This Post Posted: December 31 2007 at 15:05

The music's good but I really don't like the singing.

"The disgusting stink of a too-loud electric guitar.... Now, that's my idea of a good time."
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Direct Link To This Post Posted: December 31 2007 at 15:15
I love the singing.  Emily Hay reminds me a bit of Judy Garland singing Somewhere Over the Rainbow" at times (in "One Nail Draws Another" and the male has a terrific voice in that song). I like that musical quality, but then, I enjoy musicals.  In Strange Attractors, it can be reminiscent of Daghmar Krause.  
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Direct Link To This Post Posted: December 31 2007 at 15:25
Originally posted by Logan

I love the singing
Me too, it's part of the charm of this album for me. Emily Hay has this way to twist her voice and sing in different ways and amidst all that there is her special way of singing (One Nail Draws Another chorus).
If I had more musical background in theory and history of music, I'd write an essay about this album. I'll leave it to the experts (if any is interested).
 
 
 


Edited by avestin - December 31 2007 at 15:26
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Direct Link To This Post Posted: December 31 2007 at 15:33
Originally posted by Logan

I love the singing.  Emily Hay reminds me a bit of Judy Garland singing Somewhere Over the Rainbow" at times (in "One Nail Draws Another" and the male has a terrific voice in that song). I like that musical quality, but then, I enjoy musicals.  In Strange Attractors, it can be reminiscent of Daghmar Krause.  
 
I'm not a fan of Judy Garland or Dagmar Krause so Emily Hay's voice doesn't appeal to me. It's a shame because I really enjoy the instrumental sections.
"The disgusting stink of a too-loud electric guitar.... Now, that's my idea of a good time."
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