CD Review – a-tota-so – Lights Out

a-tota-so are taking something of a risk with Lights Out, the band’s second album. So far, the group has produced a tasty brand of instrumental math rock complimented with a heavy dose of grunge but now they have called upon a number of singing friends from other bands to guest on the new album.

Deciding to work on through the covid pandemic, although they obviously could not play live, the band remained creative and worked on the album. The band, like everyone, had no idea how long restrictions would last, anticipating that they would not be playing live for some considerable time allowed them time to develop the new music and they came up with the idea of including vocalists to create a listenable album without having to be wary of over limiting restraints.

The result is a powerful album, full of contrasts and varying styles. It engages with diverse issues, but in a positive way. Marty Toner, the band’s guitarist explains, “The album deals with a variety of themes including depression, anxiety, feeling lost and the general state of the world we are currently living in while providing hope that we can carry on with the things that we all love and enjoy in the future.”

At times the music is heavy, almost demanding, full to the brim with brash machismo. The opener, Choke, is a piece of punk-metal grunge with suitably shouty vocals from Jake O’Driscoll.  Elsewhere the masculinity is toned down into something more melodic. A stark contrast comes when the female guests sing. It is on these songs that the band demonstrate light and shade more than on many of the other tracks. It is on these more balanced tunes that the band seems to be more original. The music and vocals seem to complement one another more creatively and the aggression is better balanced with something more subtle.

That is not to say that the performances of all concerned are not good. They are, and the singers interpret the songs with some aplomb. The demands of the songs lead the vocals into a particular direction and the band with the guests respond fruitfully. Aisling Whiting from the band Sang Froid comments on her involvement on I Am; “I Am was sent to me at the peak of the pandemic, it gave me a source of release that I didn’t think possible during such insane times. Being asked to weave vocals onto such a beautifully emotive track was an absolute pleasure. I felt challenged to feed some of my peak pandemic low points into the lyrics of this song, but also wanted to ensure the concept of there being a light at the end of the tunnel, however long that tunnel may be.”

Lights Out is a very good album full of dramatic diversity. It is at its best when it is calmer but has great power and drive when cutting loose. The musicians are very good. Marty Toner is a cracking player of diverse styles on guitar, Chris Marsh has great tone and pacing on bass while Jamie Cattermole is a lithe and energetic player on drums. Addition colour comes from Josh Gesner’s keyboards on Squirrel Bait and Realf Greville Heygate playing violins and cello on I Am. The vocal performances are all excellent. The shifts from loud to quieter sections is what the band excel at. It is climactic, often emotional, and impressive.

Choke Ft. Jake ODriscoll

Far enough Ft. Damien Sayell

I Am Ft. Aisling Whiting

Squirrel Bait Ft. Kieran Hayes

Footprints On The Ceiling Ft. Brian Scally

Spicy Nights Ft. Jack Gordon

Sad Lamps Ft. Ellie Godwin

When The Waves Come Ft. Ashley Tubb

Marty Toner – Guitar

Jamie Cattermole – Drums

Chris Marsh – Bass

Additional Musicians:

Josh Gesner (Polymath) – Keys On “Squirrel bait”

Realf Greville Heygate – Violins and Cello on “I Am…”

Guest Vocalists:

Jake O’Driscoll (God Alone)

Damien Sayell (The St Pierre Snake Invasion/ mclusky)

Aisling Whiting (Sang Froid)

Kieran Hayes (We Come In Pieces)

Brian Scally (Ganglions / Anna’s Anchor)

Ellie Godwin (No Violet)

Jack Gordon (Irk / Platitude Queen)

Ashley Tubb (Sugar Horse)

Label: via Buttonpusher

Release date: 11th March 2022

Formats: CD, Vinyl, Digital

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