Graded on a Curve:
Ttotals, Let Everything Come Through

The Nashville-based “outer-blues” duo Ttotals has been active for a couple years now. After a handful of multi-format releases they’ve recently unveiled their first full-length Let Everything Come Through on the small but impressive Connecticut-based label Twin Lakes Records. Psych-tinged and heavy but with a focus on songwriting and fronted by a throat that’s not afraid to emote, Ttotals’ sound derives from familiar sources as it stands apart from the contemporary crowd.

It can seem as though Ttotals, an act composed of the guitar and vocals of Brian Miles and the drums, drones and keyboards of Marty Linville, aren’t in any particular hurry to get heard, but upon consideration that’s not really accurate, for their discography so far includes a compilation track, a 4-song EP on 12-inch vinyl/3-inch CDR, a 10-inch, a live cassette and a 45, all limited editions. It’s just that up to now the twosome has managed to avoid intruding into the current spotlight too deeply.

Let Everything Come Through is set to put the kibosh on that circumstance, the LP likely to raise their visibility while possibly endearing them to a variety of rock fans. Miles and Linville have coined Ttotals’ sound as “outer-blues,” a unique catch-phrase nicely addressing the late-‘60s psychedelic aspects of the music (the outer) as it underlines a relationship to the non-purist proclivities of the same era (the blues).

With this said, Ttotals don’t really register as all that ‘60s-derived a proposition. The ten cuts here reinforce what their “Spectrums of Light” 7-inch of 2013 (also pressed up by Twin Lakes) hinted at; specifically, they’re not striving for a sound that existed betwixt the Summer of Love and the Nightmare of Altamont. Rather, they’re in the ballpark of those ’80 u-ground/post-punk outfits undeniably impacted by the ‘60s and flaunting the influence in discernible fashion, going deeper than San Fran or Los Angeles into, for one example, the roster of the Texas label International Artists.

Along with their entry on Sonic Cathedral’s double 7-inch sampler “Psych for Sore Eyes” and a pair of tracks from the 4-song EP, both sides of “Spectrums of Light” are featured on the new record. To some this might read like a lack of songwriting prolificacy, but the corralling of extant material doesn’t feel that unusual for a debut LP, and it helps to maximize Let Everything Come Through’s success.

Unlike other rock-inclined duos, Ttotals don’t tangibly impact the ear as a two-piece. They instead carry the heft of a full band, in part due to Linville’s double-duty on drones and mini Korg, opener “Take Care of Me” exploring a solid minute of hovering aural texture before a rhythm rises in the mix, the proceedings tackling a brawny mid-tempo.

They are also not shy over employing guests, a skronky sax freak-out courtesy of Derek Schartung arriving later in the cut; it highlights the music’s non-orthodox tendencies, Miles’ riffing kicking up a racket as the deep timbre of his voice tills earthy soil a bit redolent of a young, trim, and yet curiously post-punk-disposed Jim Morrison.

Perhaps because he’s half of the instrumental equation Miles never lets the similarity spill into excess, his vocals kept in check throughout “My Eyes Are Open,” a lengthier, moodier piece that could’ve easily provoked a tangent of over-singing. To be clear, he isn’t terribly beholden to Morrison, and in fact the occasional comparisons to a certain bloke of the UK named Ian McColloch are observable during “My Eyes Are Open” and across the whole of Let Everything Come Through.

If this seems to propose a little ‘80s Brit Neo-Psych flavor, the assumption isn’t necessarily off target, though the guts of the matter (tune and alb) are much heavier than that loose movement, landing closer to the noisiness of the American u-grounders from later in the decade, with Miles’ guitar even suggesting Sonic Youth.

And the relatively uptempo “Life Thus Far-Out” is reminiscent of the chunky and indeed weighty Rock motions transpiring underneath the mainstream at the very end of the ‘80s, particularly those on the US east coast developing simultaneously to the whole Sub Pop shebang. It leads into the slow-build b-side of last year’s 7-inch, Miles’ vocalizing on “Tricks of the Trade” a smidge like the ol’ head Bunnyman channeling early solo Iggy in Jimbo mode.

Frankly, that’s a zone agreeable to ‘80s goth-rock, though when Linville’s drums achieve high gear any stray cobwebs are blown to smithereens. “Tricks of the Trade” paves the way for one of the LP’s sweetest moments, “On the First Time” retaining a touch of the Ig and fittingly pursuing Stooge-like throb with a dab of psych and an acceptable dose of misery blended into Miles’ voice, the template smartly spiked by upsurges of hard riffs.

By contrast, the fairly concise “Hearts Always Start Up” locates a brisk pace structured around an initially intriguing guitar line, though by roughly the halfway point the song has leveled-out into a display of form moves. This is by no means a terrible thing, for Ttotals is a well-practiced, cohesive unit, but it’s also not the duo at their best.

“Let the Light In” does get pretty close to that creative peak however, integrating a slowly escalating cadence with elements of sustain and Linville’s skilled rhythmic delivery; it’s one of the pair’s most melodic (if still sturdy) and least precedent-taggable gestures, even before the brief and unexpected additive of femme backup singing (from Deli Neblett and Amy Eskew) assists in propelling the tune’s value farther upward.

It’s followed with the a-side to the aforementioned 45, “Sometimes You Just Are” intensifying the notion of a svelte, beardless Lizard King somehow fronting a mid-‘80s group that recorded for Beggars Banquet. Appropriately heavy, it additionally contains strands of keyboard, though resemblances to Manzarek are nowhere in the vicinity.

Together with a non-trite false ending, “Opposite Rabbits” emphasizes Ttotals are most effective at less rapid speeds allowing for the proper cultivation of moody atmospherics and undertones of psychedelia, the track providing a strong lead-in to the spacious and dynamically rigorous ambiance served up in the finale “String of Life.”

Well-recorded by “3rd member” Tate Eskew and mastered by Carl Saff, the LP extends and amplifies the strengths found in Ttotals’ prior work but without really raising the established bar of quality, though the format does provide for some distinctive facets, especially the unbroken flow between selections, a maneuver beckoning to their rep as a powerful live entity.

The result connects higher than the first album standard while still insinuating potential not fully realized, the sum increasing the suspicion that Miles and Linville have at least one classic long-player in them; this isn’t it, but Let Everything Come Through does offer a nice ride.

GRADED ON A CURVE:
B+

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