In difficult times such as what we face today, it is often our artists that shine most truthfully and with the strongest sense of urgency and purpose. For an instrumental band it can be difficult to channel a specific message to the audience, and the hope is that listeners will use the music to create their own narratives, but sometimes themes can be gleaned from the tones and substance of a record. Kokomo have been an establish force on the post-rock scene for a number of years now and have always embraced heavier elements, but with their newest release Totem Youth the band have composed their most intense record to date, a grave refection of the world that faces us when we gaze out the window.
Totem Youth is the product of musicians coming together to compose the music that most honestly reflects their feelings in the moment, with no pre-determined design going in. The result is weighty and dark, looming and uncompromising. But there is also residue of hope, echoes of light beyond the darkness. The band chose to leave digital elements behind, to focus solely on organic instrumentation, in hopes of establishing the theme that we have only ourselves to count on as we march forward. They also took to spiritually associated instruments like bells, gongs, rattles, and even a child’s future, anything that could aid in a reconnection with the natural world that we have largely neglected. Through these small details andp recise choices Kokomo have imbued Totem Youth with a spirit that defies its own darkness. There is no attempt to look away from the void that’s before us, but to attack it with bold aggression and non-compliance.
The album moves with purpose through progressions of raw emotion, spirited intensity and moody atmospherics that often feel like a swirling maelstrom but ultimately present with a strong abstract arc. The record opens with the oppressive chug of “Sterben am Fluss,” and the stabbing riffage of the lead single “Hold Me Closer, Unknown Dancer,” a one-two punch of leaden heaviness that treads ferociously on everything in their path. “Narcosis” retains much of the same tone but presents as a more hypnotic and melodically heartening piece, leading into the somber and contemplative bridgework between the two halves of the album, the lone “quiet” moment “Golden Guns.” On the back half “Melodic Rock Night” joins the band with Her Name Is Calla singer Tom Morris for what is the most sonically uplifting and emotionally triumphant moment on the record, a climactic turning point leading into the album closer “Der Vogelmann.” On this final track Totem Youth circles back to the kind of crushing force that characterizes the beginning of the record, except with the context of what comes before it the song takes on a different tone. No longer representing the cries of the oppressed, “Der Vogelmann” feels like a seizure of power and control, an anthem rather than a lament, a celebration of our strength. This is the core of the record: honest, focused aggression and emotion functioning as a vehicle to take on the difficult and sometimes frightening realities that face us in the modern world. Totem Youth adds an impactful and engaging new chapter to Kokomo’s already-impressive resume.
– Young Epoch