The Atlanta, GA-based singer/songwriter TOTEM is part of a burgeoning trend among a number of artists – a trend in which these artists purposely shroud themselves in mystery in order to eschew the familiar notions of the artist and their work being viewed as a product to be thoughtlessly marketed and soullessly consumed. And by doing so, the artist is actively attempting to ensure that their work stands up for itself.
Pride, TOTEM’s debut EP was quietly released yesterday and both sonically and thematically, the material on the album compares favorably to the likes of Beacon, Steven A. Clark, Majical Cloudz, Bear In Heaven and others. In other words, although slickly produced, the material on Pride posses a deeply introspective nature – the sort of introspection that comes as a result of profound, personal experience while subtly nodding towards R&B.
Slow burning EP opener “Rich Girl” pairs TOTEM’s crooning, which evokes both obsessive lust and aching yearning with gently arching organ chords, swirling, moodily atmospheric atmospherics in a way that may remind some listeners thematically of the sort of songs you’d expect to hear on WBLS . Title track “Pride” is probably the most pop-orientated and radio friendly songs on the entire EP as it starts out with hauntingly gorgeous piano chords, layers of TOTEM’s vocals. and undulating electronics before slowly adding layers upon layers of synths and woofer shaking drum and bass.
“Countdown” begins a stretch of 3 or 4 of the sexiest songs I’ve heard this year and each song sounds as though it channels different periods of R&B while remaining incredibly contemporary. The aforementioned “Countdown” with its gently undulating synths, cymbal-based percussion paired with TOTEM’s falsetto will likely remind some listeners of I Love You It’s Cool-era Bear In Heaven and Steven A. Clark – mainly because its effortlessly soulful sensuality. “Sunrise” may remind some listeners of a Prince’s “I Wanna Be Your Lover” as TOTEM sings lyrics that sound like a naughty come on with a gossamer falsetto while expressing an urgent, plaintive yearning that would be perfect for Quiet Storm back in the day. It’s also the sort of song you’d want to play to seduce someone and convince them that they have to take you home at that very moment. EP closing track, “Shame” is full of an uncommonly ballsy swagger that initially knocked me back a bit, considering the introspective nature of the effort’s previous songs.
Although slickly produced, the material on Pride comes from a deeply personal place as it thematically discusses lust, love, longing, lingering regret and confusing with an unflinching candor. The narrator of “Sabotage” openly talks about how he blindly sabotage the love he had spent his life looking for – and that in some way, he’s haunted by both his mistakes and his lover’s ghost. And the song does remind the listener of the fact that ghosts do indeed linger. “Devotion” has a narrator who recognizes that he’s in a confusing and possibly fucked up relationship that he may have a difficult time leaving. There’s an irresistible sexual chemistry and yet, he wants more – and he may ever not get it from that person or that relationship. It’s deeply personal and yet it captures and evokes themes that are universal.