Graded on a Curve: Ttotals, “Spectrums
of Light” 7″

The Nashville duo Ttotals is just getting started, but if they keep on their current course their profile should only increase. They possess a solid handle on heavy and at times atmospheric psych-rock action, and they provide it with a distinct stamp. Their latest release is a 7-inch titled “Spectrums of Light,” a limited edition of 300 from the label Twin Lakes Records, and while Ttotals discography is still small, it’s their best one yet.

Regarding Ttotals, two descriptions come up rather frequently, specifically “psych” and “outer blues.” Both terms are fitting, though it should be added that the duo of vocalist/guitarist Brian Miles and drummer Marty Linville is consistently focused on songs rather than displays of outbound excess.

Prior to Ttotals, Miles and Linville were in another Nashville outfit called Heathern Haints, a group most notable for kicking up a small amount positive dust via a self-released eponymous 4-song 12-inch way back in 2008. That puppy was limited to 300 copies, so Heathern Haints’ achievement quite understandably flew more than a bit under the radar.

And that’s too bad, since their music was deserving of wider exposure, remindful at times of a cross between Bardo Pond and Galaxie 500, but with a vocal bent that reminded more than one listener of Echo & the Bunnymen’s Ian McCullough. In terms of their overall thrust, others made mention of bands like Codeine and Spacemen 3, quite sensible references in both cases.

After releasing that solitary platter (they apparently recorded a full-length, but it doesn’t seem to have been issued commercially), Heathern Haints dissolved the following year, the announcement coinciding with the news that Ttotals (which is pronounced sans stutter as “totals”) was born. Since then, the pair’s been busy but methodical, smartly resisting the urge to rush things, but also managing a higher level of productivity than the blink and you just might (and probably did) miss them Heathern Haints.

A lingering similarity to that prior group is manifested in Ttotals’ urge to issue product in severely limited editions. For instance, their Annimal Skkulls release, a 3-inch CD-R housed under the Kimberly Dawn Recordings imprint, was composed of a whopping 60 copies. Unsurprisingly, I haven’t heard that one.

But I have soaked up the tracks included on their self-released 10-inch from last year, pressed up in an edition of 300 that actually appears to still be available for order via their Bandcamp page. Titled “Silver on Black,” it’s a three song affair, and the most immediate difference from the duo’s previous work in Heathern Haints comes through the absence of any Galaxie 500-esque qualities.

Instead, they lean closer to that Bardo Pond template, though as stated above they are more songlike in approach, with Miles’ vocals retaining much of the McCullough-like aura he established in the Haints. He’s far from any sort of mimic, however. For instance, “Silver on Black’s” first cut “Special A” establishes a doomy down-tempo vibe that could very likely appeal to discerning goth-rock fans.

The other two songs on the 10-inch are more spirited, displaying their handle on dynamics; if a duo, Ttotals actually connects like a full band. And if more rocking, the record retains that doom-laden atmosphere for its tidy duration. If a psyche unit, Ttotals’ specialize in a dark variation of the form, one with enough aggression in the guitar playing to lend a hint of garage-punk lineage.

Ttotals were recently included on “Psych for Sore Eyes,” a nifty double 7-inch comp from the UK label Sonic Cathedral that’s unfortunately already sold-out in vinyl form (especially sad, since it’s a very fine object to behold), though the tracks are available for hearing on Spotify of all places. “Life Thus Far-Out,” Ttotals’ contribution to the festivities, is nicely of a piece with their stuff from “Silver on Black,” and it goes far in strengthening a cohesive, if not yet signature sound for the pair.

And their latest release “Spectrums of Light,” waxed up by the Connecticut label Twin Lakes Records, continues these developments with two particularly strong songs. The a-side, “Sometimes You Just Are” retains that dark sensibility and alternates it with an increased sense of heaviness courtesy of Miles’ guitar.

Again, the gloomsters should be very pleased. What’s interesting is that Miles’ vocals have sorta shed the feel of McCullough and headed straight into the hefty zone of one Jim Morrison. That might make some folks fidgety, but it shouldn’t, at least not in this case. While ol’ Jim was in the end the victim of excesses both physical and artistic, he was also a flat-out exceptional vocalist at times, predominantly early in his band’s run.

On “Spectrums of Light,” Miles invests his singing with just enough swagger to evoke strong comparisons to Morrison’s good side, and he remains disciplined enough to avoid any associations with the Lizard King’s moments of delusional grandeur. Greatly enhancing this state of affairs is Linville, who not only serves up some excellent drumming but also sneaks in a very likeable keyboard-like tidbit.

It conjures a merger of post-punk (the heavier side of Joy Division, perhaps) and the top-notch oomph of the early Doors material, and is subtle enough to never impact the ear like a blatant steal. And it makes the descriptor “outer blues” something more than just a catch-phrase.

In various Ttotals promo material Linville is credited with drones and samples, deepening their sound in a manner that also allows them to thrive in a performance setting. And that same promo literature informs that the pair makes an admirable habit of playing live. This is all quite clear in their music, which has gotten stronger dynamically in a very short time.

So b-side, “Tricks of the Trade” lacks any hints of the subpar. Instead it further enhances their sound. In contrast to “Sometimes You Just Are” however, which shifts between those periods of darkness and heaviness (or to put it another way, simply tension and release), the strands of moodiness and rhythmic power are combined on the flip once the drums kick in. On one hand this difference isn’t all that mind-blowing, but on the other it keeps “Spectrums of Light” from succumbing to the monochromatic.

For it is rather clear that Ttotals aren’t striving to impress through a wide range of stylistically diverse material, but instead are shooting to perfect a deep and quickly recognizable musical personality. Their efforts to this end have thus far borne fruit. It certainly won them the attention of Sonic Boom, the former Spacemen 3 and Spectrum member, lending his expertise in the mastering of this 7-inch.

Highly regarded associates are surely worth mentioning, but perhaps the biggest compliment that can be paid to Ttotals is that even at this early stage in their growth they stand apart from the deluge of contemporary sounds, the vast majority of which is naturally lacking in distinction. As “Spectrums of Light” is again a maddeningly small press, interested parties will want to act fast.

But even if you aren’t one of the lucky 300 to lay hands on a physical copy of this record, the situation bodes well for Ttotals. For if Brian Miles and Marty Linville continue to progress, it’s hard to imagine them being constrained by limited editions for very much longer.

GRADED ON CURVE:
B+

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1 comments
Venlo
Venlo

Love these guys.

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