U Totem

U Totem

U Totem - U Totem ©1990 Cuneiform Records
1. One Nail Draws Another
2. Two Looks At One End
3. Dance Of The Awkward
4. Both Your Houses
5. Yellow Umbrella Gallery
6. The Judas Goat
7. Vagabonds Home

Progressive rock!

Eh? Still reading? Good for you! There's a few subjects that's bound to bring out strong opinions from people, and the whole "what is progressive music" discussion is certainly a popular one. Some complain that all progrock bands around these days aren't truly progressing, but just ripping off their old prog-idols without adding anything truly new to the table. Others feel progrock is just a label now, to describe the sound you can expect from a band and let you know that you can expect a certain level of compositional and musical skill. Some will tout bands like Mr. Bungle and Sculptured as the upper echelon of prog, while others will say bands like Echolyn and Spock's Beard are the true prog. Why am I saying all this? Why, because U Totem is the perfect example of a band that fits in both definitions, of course. Yay for them, and yay for us who get to listen to it!

U Totem is a collaboration between members from 5UU and Motor Totemist Guild, and are quite darn hard to stamp a single label on. Generally there's a lot of pianos, bassoon, flutes and bass going at it here, with counterpoints up the wazoo and wacky timesignatures all over the place. Thankfully they're keeping it together with a good share of melodies etc, so you don't have to be a die-hard "techjunkie" to enjoy this material. Plus, it doesn't hurt that the female vocalist, Emily Hay, has more than a slight resemblance to Renaissance's Annie Heslam. The music hops around quite a lot, hardly ever actually bothering with repeating anything, or keeping in the same style for too long. Think Frank Zappa and John Zorn, though maybe not quite as angular as particularly the latter gets at times. Chamber music comes to mind, but it's a good bit rocked up, with some tracks being downright upbeat! With others almost going down to Universe Zero-ish darkness.

If nothing else, this album sounds very fresh, and it's bound to keep you on your toes, trying to anticipate what'll come next. Because of the overall complexity of the work, it can get a bit daunting at times, particularly on the first few listens. However, once things fall into place, this will either have you enjoying the ride entirely, or running around yelling, "What a bunch of pretentious crap, this Oyster-man is obviously a total twit for liking this garbage! In fact, I bet he just pretends to like it to seem deep and clever. Where's my 'Boogada Boogada Boogada' CD?"

As with most good music, in my opinion that is, this is best suited for still, active listens, and might falter a bit if you just want something in the background while playing Half-life or cooking dinner. And though I love this album, these guys are, without a doubt, a bit pretentious. Heck, the first track has all three singers singing different melodies at once, each in a different language! If you're a fan of the RIO-movement, or other types of avant garde music that takes a bit of an effort to truly get into, this should be well worth giving a listen or five.

Review by Řystein H-O

Review date: 06/2001

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