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U Totem - U Totem CD (album) cover


U Totem



4.24 | 93 ratings

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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.

SaltyJon | 5/5 |


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