If you’re like me, you’ve been anticipating Totem for well over a year – at least since the release of “Knock on the Sky” last summer. Well, I’m here to tell you that this EP is worth the wait. Taking the sound from Analogue and injecting it with even more space, structure, and deliberateness, the band has developed stronger atmospheres, more impactful movements, and the most memorable lyrics and hooks of its work to date. Totem sees Culprit developing its songwriting abilities, growing tighter as a band, and unloading a great deal of talent into seven tracks full of different textures, powerful vocals, and a seemingly endless stream of strong guitar lines. It’s not a perfect release, but it’s sure to keep you interested for its duration and make you excited for what the band does next.
Although the EP starts off with a slightly clumsy first line, the rest of “Totem” is structured flawlessly. The song is dynamic, with plenty of little details and embellishments to keep you interested with every listen, and it’s easy to see why this is the title track – it shows how the band has grown since its debut in terms of how tight they’ve become as a unit, and how much better Travis Powell become at writing compelling vocal lines. Lines like the questioning “have you ever felt so lonely that all you have lives in the past?” come across masterfully over the thinner textures of the verse, and the chorus has a great sense of direction and just the right kind of non-pop hook. The drumming is on-point, and the bass sits perfectly in the mix to give a really full sound and lots to enjoy on the low end. The intro of “Supply and Command” continues that rich sound, while the track as a whole shows off even more variety, with instrument elements reminiscent of how a less over-the-top version of Zelliack might sound. Culprit’s always been a band with interesting guitar parts, and that strength shines through here with dynamic shifts in rhythm and tone providing great atmospheres for Powell’s vocals, particularly the wonderful falsetto. There’s plenty of strong lyricism throughout, and the themes of worry and anxiousness that are more fleshed out in the next song really start to come forward in this track.
I loved the bridge and atmospheric elements of “Knock on the Sky” when I reviewed it before, and those remain among my favorite parts of Totem today. This is the song that made me really look forward to hearing more from Culprit, and it’s definitely near the top of everything they’ve released. Be sure to check out the band’s recent video for the song, as it captures the perfect visual aesthetic to match the sonic exploration found within these seven tracks. If you’re going to listen to one song from Totem, make this that song. If you’re going to listen to two songs from Totem, make it “Knock on the Sky” and “No More.” Channeling the soul of acts like Squid the Whale, the track has a slower pace, warmer overall tone, and winding, meandering guitar and vocal lines that allow for a more natural feel. It’s a little different from the other songs the band has put out, but it’s executed in just the right way and is definitely great as a counterpoint to the preceding track.
The closing instrumental section of “No More” serves as the perfect transition into “Bodies Divided,” which brings to mind the more delicate moments of From Indian Lakes‘ Able Bodies. This is the sort of song that proves how well these guys can play with and manipulate different textures to achieve the greatest effect. While it might not be the overall strongest track they’ve released (even as good as it is), it’s certainly of the type that makes you excited to hear how the band will put those skills to use in the future. “We’re to Blame,” on the other hand, doesn’t quite reach the same heights as the other songs on Totem. A kind of blend between “Supply and Command” and “Bodies Divided,” it fails to find the same level of interest that those two are able to. Even though the second half is much stronger than the first, the track as a whole is the weakest you’ll find on this EP. “Piece of Eden” closes out the set with mysterious, dark atmospheric guitar lines – only appropriate for a song with lyrics inspired by Assassin’s Creed. The chorus is among the best the band has written, and the line “I’ve forgotten more than you’ll ever know” will get stuck in your head. The bridge changes the dynamic wonderfully, bringing the energy level way down before a final chorus propels everything forward one last time.
If you’re into spacey, progressive indie rock that maintains direction without restricting itself, you’re sure to find plenty to love here. While the release is not without its flaws, Totem is a strong second entry in the band’s discography, and it should help accelerate the group’s growth as one of the best young acts in today’s scene. In terms of sheer potential, Culprit has everything you could want in terms of talent, creativity, and aesthetic. The growth from Analogue is clearly evident, and the number of different textures and sounds on this EP shows that there’s quite a bit of sonic landscape this quartet’s eager to explore. Even if this doesn’t fall as one of the best releases of the year, it’s always exciting to see bands doing things this interesting and combining a wide range of influences to create something truly unique that they can entirely own. Culprit is on its way to doing big things, so don’t be surprised when you see them garnering massive support in the near future. It’s only inevitable when a group of guys is this talented this early on.