Midlands based math-rockers a-tota-so are back though not quite as “mathy” as you might remember them. When COVID19 hit the UK and the never ending lockdowns and lack of support for the music industry started signalling the end of live music for what many thought might be a very long time, a-tota-so decided to change things up and keep themselves busy working on their second album entitled Lights Out.
Featuring members of Alright the Captain and Cheap Jazz, a-tota-so formed in 2016 after both bands went on hiatus and they went on to release their self titled debut album in 2018. Since their formation they have gone on to tour the UK and mainland Europe appearing at festivals including ArcTanGent, Bad Pond and Strangeforms alongside shows with the likes of Tera Melos, Alpha Male Tea Party, Memory of Elephants, Chiyoda Ku and more.
The biggest change on this album sees the usually instrumental band enlisting a gang of their vocalist friends from the UK and Irish music scene, putting a fresh spin on their music and create something different this time around. Each of the eight tracks boasts a different vocalist from the likes of Damien Sayell (The St Pierre Snake Invasion/Mclusky), Ashley Tubb (Sugar Horse), Jake O’Driscoll (God Alone) and Ellie Godwin (No Violet).
With most of the music being written during the first lockdown and recorded over winter 2020 at JT Soar, the legendary DIY venue and recording studio in Nottingham, the band sent a track to each of the vocalists they had in mind and they were given free reign to do what they wanted over the instrumentals. The result is an unusual, fascinating and genuinely eclectic album which covers a wide range of genres and gives a completely different slant to the band’s sound.
Guitarist Marty Toner comments, “The album deals with a variety of themes including depression, anxiety, feeling lost and the general state of the world we are currently living in while providing hope that we can carry on with the things that we all love and enjoy in the future.”
Lights Out starts off with Choke, featuring Jake O’Driscoll from God Alone, pretty heavy stuff this! Far Enough features Damien Sayell from the St.Pierre Snake Invasion (GREAT name!). Again an edgy composition and performance, it does emphasise how well singer and band can “harmonise in complete isolation”, totally separated from each other and relying on the band’s sense of how their friends empathise with their music. Nowhere is this illustrated better than the following track where Aisling Whiting (Sang Froid) out front perfectly captures the mood of the band. It’s an electrifying track!
Squirrel Bait features Keiren Hayes from We Come In Pieces, another edgy but fluid, pacey number that reminds me a lot of White Denim. This one has some almost “orchestral” sections, in the way the mood changes towards the end. Interesting! Footprints On The Ceiling features Brian Scally of Ganglion and Anna’s Anchor. Not so sure about this one though, it’s a bit fractured for me. Spicy Nights is next, with Jack Gordon from Irk. Another one sounding like White Denim, there’s some fantastically tight playing here from the three core instrumentalists
Sad Lamps has Ellie Godwin from No Violet on lead vocals, an inspired choice on this ethereal track, she floats above a floaty melody that builds and builds, it’s a complete earworm, lovely guitar work, for me this is the strongest number on the album, the cleanliness of the mix is perfect! And then we have When The Waves Come, the closing track, fronted by Ashley Tubb from Sugar Horse. This sort of takes the album out in the same edgy, screamy way it came in.
Additional musicians include Josh Gesner (Polymath) and Keys Realf Greville Heygate on Violins and Cello. Recorded by Phil Booth at JT Soar Mixed and Mastered by Richard Collins at Snug Recording Co. Artwork by Simon Curd, this is a brave production. It doesn’t always work, but its a brave and ultimately satisfying collection of work – good stuff!