a-tota-so "Lights Out" Album Review
a-tota-so’s Lights Out is a momentous, multifaceted, math-rock-imbued sequel – as monstrous as it is moving, effortlessly clever and tremendously compelling.
Building on their debut’s solid math rock foundations, a-tota-so’s Lights Out propels a sonically diverse cast of guest vocalists (all from the UK and Irish music scene) to great heights and engrossing depths. While the format lends itself to conventional song structures, it’s all the more conceptual and progressive for its sum-of-parts nature, the band tying everything together with focused freneticism and musicality yet barely breaking compound time. And it sounds great, the tasteful production full of exciting “in-the-room” energy.
While there’s much to extract across the 8 songs, everything and everyone has their space, with each pairing taking on distinct character. Opener Choke jumps between crunch and angular jangle as God Alone’s Jake O’Driscoll casts ominous reverb-laden shadows, before moving into moody Tool-esque riffing. Damien Sayell (The St Pierre Snake Invasion) against Far Enough’s modal twists and turns conjures Reuben at their grungiest. Aisling Whiting’s (Sang Froid) emotive weavings on I Am… move from mournful croon to wailing crescendo as the band transitions from shuffling folk to driving post-rock. Squirrel Bait (with Keiran Hayes of We Come In Pieces), Footprints on the Ceiling (with Brian Scally of Ganglions/Anna's Anchor) and Spicy Nights (with Jack Gordon of Irk/Platitude Queen) exude ample At The Drive In post-hardcore vibes. I even hear Mastodon in the intricate arpeggiated backing to Ellie Godwin’s (No Violet) chilling delivery on “Sad Lamps”. The album concludes with the calamitous vocal harmonies of Ashley Tubb (Sugar Horse) on When the Waves Comes (I’m hearing Mike Patton on DEP’s Irony Is A Cold Dead Scene).
At the same time, Lights Out is very much its own thing, far beyond a simple collection of songs. For me, it recaptures the excitement of the late 2000s when math rock was really coming into its own. Musically and lyrically, the album feels fuelled by pent up energy, anger and desire for camaraderie and reunion, all channelled into coherent forward momentum.
Having managed to somehow overlook a-tota-so, they are now at the top of my must-see list, with Lights Out easily one of my favourite album releases of 2022 so far.