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U Totem - U Totem CD (album) cover


U Totem



4.24 | 93 ratings

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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.

Sean Trane | 4/5 |


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