“Are my speakers going out?” I ask myself. I have a reliable pair of monitors. They belong in a recording studio, but found their way on my desk somehow. With 5” Kevlar low-frequency drivers, 70 watts of bi-amplified power and magnetic shielding to prevent cell phone chatter, these speakers do the beats justice. So, of course they’re not going out. No, instead Brainfeeder’s latest artist has produced something so interesting, so beyond the monotony of cookie-cutter-beats and so weird that I have questioned the reliability of studio-grade audio equipment. But, beyond the weirdness and the randomness and the riddles, there is a voice—a beautiful map that connects this spattering of beats to form a constellation by which I navigate this album called Totem by vocalist, multi-instrumentalist and beat cartographer, RYAT.
Totem is RYAT’s fourth album release, including the remix of her sophomore album, Avant Gold. It exists as a darker version of early works as it conjures life’s less happy, but equally important emotional qualities. Thusly, her voice is as genuine it ever could be. Patterns exist on the album only to be destroyed. Dissonance and imbalance are portrayed with the spastic panning of noise, reminiscent to tracks like “Time Worn” on the album Avant Gold. The entirety of her earlier works illustrate a discernible transition into Totem, a more natural sounding work.
RYAT opens Totem with an inviting harp. These ethereal melodies envelop the stings. Scattered beats fill the voids and everything is peaceful. Then the beep of heart monitor emerges, steady at first. But, like a storm the gusts of beats build exponentially until dropping off into the silence of the track “Owl”. Visions of death exist like an aftertaste. But “Owl” assists in this transition with rejoicing beat work until heavy poetry and hard-hitting beats are ubiquitous. Then “Howl” begins. “Howl” is Totem’s single. Its beats are brooding and her vocals are lustful. What better track to seed curiosity?
Each track transmutes. This lack of discernible form gives room for RYAT to explore her vocal play. Her voice bellows and bends, quivers and sustains. This is her adding color to an otherwise monochrome blueprint of beats, strings and keys. Listen to the track “Invisibly Ours”. Simple arpeggios accent predictable beats. And, while everything is seemingly simple, the narrative takes twists and turns as it follows RYAT’s vocals through an unpredictable mystery.
RYAT writes beat Couture. Each track takes to the runway. Some run and others crawl. Perhaps the titles of these tracks address an idea, animal or concept. Totem seems to represent a more complete story, or a series of events. At any rate, a good story contains a sad element. Case in point, the track “hummingbird” will peel your eyelids back with its poetic strings, mood setting keys and subtle beats. RYAT sings “The beating of my little drum, my little drum, my little drum.” Whether by design or coincidence, the beating heart exists throughout Totem.
RYAT has written an album that shares those moments between albums, when the music stops playing and the beat of someone else’s drum weaves in and out of synchronicity with another. For many listeners this album may just sound a little more natural and a little more dramatic than previous works. And, for others this album will sound like an omnipresent drum with infinite sustain.