RYAT TOTEM Review

Album. Released 2012.  

BBC Review

An always-rewarding insight into this LA artist’s mystical and eccentric world.

Ian Roullier 2012

Flying Lotus seems to have a fairly specific policy for signing music to his Brainfeeder label: it seems to be a rich refuge for left-leaning, glitched-out, largely instrumental hip hop that’s infused with a dash of IDM. So, on first appearance it seems that LA-based singer/songwriter Christina Ryat (recording under all-caps, it seems) does little to fit the bill that includes artists like Martyn, Samiyam and Teebs.

Scratch away the surface details, however, and the mutated vocals, mutilated beats and clash between gentle orchestral moments and ugly electronics of TOTEM combine to reveal Ryat’s style to be very much in the Brainfeeder mould.

Whether people buy into the idea that each track is the sound of an animal’s spirit being channelled through Ryat’s wildly creative imagination and into their ears is largely irrelevant once immersed in her strange acoustic environment. From the opening harp strums, angelic voices and haphazard beats, bass and samples that make up Windcurve, it’s soon clear that attempting to guess what may be coming next is futile.

Owl follows and starts out with a fairly conventional synthesised hook; but within a minute the song’s fragmented, almost disintegrated and re-formed several times. Seemingly disparate elements such as piano, a sampled, orchestral string swoon, looped vocal phrases and squelching beats form an ever-moving kaleidoscope of sound.

It’s clear that Ryat is not one to be restricted by the normal structural verse-chorus confines of songwriting. In fact, she seems to revel in being as free as the animals that have inspired the album. Comparisons with Björk are lazy but will inevitably be drawn due to Ryat’s vocal and musical idiosyncrasies, especially during moments such as Object Mob, where whacked-out jazz rhythms and string stabs are overlaid with freestyle vocals.

Calmer, more coherent moments come courtesy of the string and piano-driven Hummingbird and dreamlike introduction to Raiz, but for every brief moment of tranquillity there are several, more unsettling moments like the galloping rhythms and collision of apparently disassociated sounds on Seahorse.

Intensely individual without being overly self-indulgent, TOTEM offers an at-times madcap, at others beautiful but always-rewarding insight into Ryat’s mystical and eccentric world.

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