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So Totally - "In The Shape Of..." | Album Review

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by Joel Parmer (@cup_of_joel)

There’s no doubt about it, Philadelphia is an important city for music. The region is a musical hub, breeding waves of bizarrely satisfying bands that are just out-there enough, yet somehow approachable to a pretty broad audience. While bands of various calibers such as Palm, Alex G, Empath, and Clockcleaner are a bit different from each other, they all fit a strange and gripping mold. The DIY scene in Philly is certainly thriving, pushing out an abundance of budding, atypical bands. Of these groups, So Totally has emerged as a gem within the mounds of the Philly peculiarity.

The four members of So Totally initially put out a cathartic EP a few years ago called a cheap close-up of heaven. Earlier this month, they followed up with their earnestly determined debut full length in the shape of.... The quartet is made up of Roya Weidman and Matt Arbiz both singing and playing guitar, Ryan Wildsmith on bass, and drummer Joe McLaughlin.

It’s evident that So Totally has taken a mindfully DIY approach to their music on both their EP and first record. On that note, the band had the following relevant words of encouragement to offer: “You gotta just do it and keep creating despite whatever you think your limitations are. Sometimes stuff takes a long time to make but it doesn't make it any less fulfilling or valid. We made most of this record in our living room in GarageBand so anything is possible!”

Furthermore, So Totally cites The Pixies, Swirlies, and Medicine as influential favorites. They add: “The Smashing Pumpkins have a lot of influence on our rhythm section as far as drum style, and Interpol who usually have melodic bass lines rather than just playing with the guitar. We also love the idea of mixing genre and combining classic-influenced rock with fuzz and psychedelia, so we like music that keeps you on your toes rather than feeling predictable!”

On the whole, in the shape of... doesn’t latch directly onto any single genre. So Totally comically tagged “fuck a genre” on the album’s Bandcamp page. They’ve drawn influence from a wide range of subgenres and experiment with creating massive walls-of-sound, incorporating field recorded clips, and blurring contrasted audio qualities together.

“Sike” opens up the record with a grab bag of samples and sounds at various lo-fi frequencies. Less than a minute in, a quick bass guitar fill leads into a full band phrase soaked in dissimilitude. While parts are spread across the board, the curated chaos sounds purposeful and calculated. Little pops of acoustic guitar blend into the mix as oddball guitar tones with near sound effect characteristics to them meld with soaring vocal lines.  

The second song on in the shape of... motivated my initial statement on So Totally: “think Land of Talk meets Spirit of the Beehive.” “Attention” casts a cerebral net of freezing guitar overhang, tremolo and surf-rock-sounding reverb, and unidentifiable electronic beeps. Vocal melodies throughout are somewhat comparable to Canadian rocker Elizabeth Powell. Later in the song, snarling, unpredictably drugged-out phrases increasingly pay homage to Spirit of the Beehive.

“No Heaven” begins with a rhythmic pulse of tambourine and a lucid main guitar riff. Moments of fuzzy, quick-hitting chords accentuate and break up an otherwise lackadaisical sounding opening passage. Weidman’s vocals enter with repetitions of a gloomy, humming melody. Her lyrics chant: “Call up the fire to no heaven, this will be my ride out.” The song slowly but surely builds upon itself adding in layers of smoky lead guitar and crunching overdrive until the drums hit full force and contort the song into something much heavier than anticipated.

Philly-based music blog The Key described the next track “Pluto” as a song that “navigates twinkling indie pop tones that are drifting, dreamlike, and inviting…but it keeps the listener on their toes.” This accurately depicts the fluctuating nature of “Pluto” which was the lead single from in the shape of.... The short interlude “Beep” counts off with a smashed electronic drum beat and an underlying continuous guitar progression. While the quick song is less than two minutes in length, it features stacked instrumentation, a glimmer of synth, and my personal favorite lyrics on the album: “I’ll only be gone for the weekend; a change in scenery as a method of self therapy. Taking day trips to the coast is getting old. I don’t know when I’ll be home.”

“Fantastic Mountain” ends So Totally’s record by creating a void within itself as reverb and delay heavy vocals rise up like a sonic inversion. As the song moves forward the void fills; instruments channel throbbing fortes and a final stretch of elongated, fever-dream guitar parts.

Although So Totally is a fairly new band, they’ve polished up a vastly interesting yet cohesive first release with in the shape of.... The group self-released the record but will soon be partnering with Citrus City Records for a run of cassettes.