Album Review: In The Dark by Totem
In mid-January, the mysterious electronic duo Totem released their album In the Dark, a slow, dreamy journey as you wade through brooding soundscapes with deep harmonies being the voices guiding you along. This is the second release from the band members Blue Heron and Whitetail Doe following their self-titled 2015 release and while the general tone of Totem’s sound is still slow with heavy, dark undertones and natural imagery, the duo seems to have developed a more cohesive style that weaves each song together perfectly with In The Dark.
This even extends to the album’s cover art, which showcases an excerpt from a late 16th century six-panel painting from Japanese artist, Hasegawa Tohaku. Titled Pine Trees, the painting features several trees immersed in mist, most being obscured with only a few visible at the forefront. The bleak portrait is simplistic in nature; however, you find yourself getting lost in the vastness of its open space. In The Dark produces a similar emotion, as Blue Heron and Whitetail Doe create somewhat of a rollercoaster of energy that they take you through, frequently shifting between low, ominous tones and quick, light-hearted melodies. If you close your eyes and listen, the music almost leaves you feeling formless as you navigate the peaks and valleys.
The album begins with the track “If I’ve Done Harm,” as soothing synths gradually build up, note by note. Melodic songbird-like synths overlay the sound in the background, which then perfectly offset deep vocals that repeat, “If I’ve done harm / It was not not cause / It was what you needed” quickly setting a serene, but dark tone. Drum beats eventually introduce themselves, giving the song another more upbeat dimension. Overall, the song makes you want to gently sway with the movement of the music and take it all in, making it a full-body ethereal experience.
The rollercoaster continues in the album’s second track, “Kind Of Pain,” as the duo seems to relish in moments of complete silence mixed with echoing feedback that makes you feel like a small being in a big space. This tone continues in tracks like “Not The Same Fire” and “Anthropocene” that feature low and ominous synth paired with low vocals, creating a feeling like you’re whirling out of control in emptiness. This atmosphere contrasts with songs like “Mythologizing,” “Furniture,” and “There Is No End” which feature tantalizing drum beats, pulsing synths, and slow, melodic guitar in the forefront that pick you up a bit despite the melancholy lyrics.
The album rounds out to a somewhat abrupt stop in “Hard To Tell,” with the lasting lyrics being, “I never guessed I would be here / I could never guess it would come to this.” The ominous ending leaves you yearning for more as the journey comes to a stop and you are transplanted back into reality. Blue Heron and Whitetail Doe’s ability to create such a strong, vivid atmosphere encourages you to let go, even if it’s just for 45 minutes, and join them in their mysterious world.
You may not find answers, but you will leave with a beautiful, foreboding experience.
In The Dark by Totem is available to listen & purchase now at http://toteminthedark.bandcamp.com.