What’s in a name? A whole hell of a lot if you’re Totimoshi. With a moniker that’s half Super Mario Bros. character and half Japanese rice cake, the Bay Area trio has continually thrown concert-listing perusers for a loop. (I must admit that I assumed the band was Japanese for months.) But this chicanery seems par for the course for these cerebral sludge-masters. After enduring a Spinal Tap-esque bout of drummer departures — none by tragic gardening accident, I assume — the band has ostensibly found a permanent skinsman in Luke Herbst. A welcome addition, Herbst is well versed in the cantankerous drumming necessary to flesh out a trio such as Totimoshi. He joins the band’s founders, guitarist Tony Aguilar and bassist Meg Castallanos, for their first album with Helmet frontman cum producer, Page Hamilton. Drawing upon nearly fifteen years of production, Hamilton lends his signature auditory aesthetic to Ladrón — the album sounds organic and, more important, live.
Opener “The Shame” is a seething condemnation of corporate America — “And the price we paid, to our dismay and disarray/ Is a ruin of our air, land, and sea” — and the perfect primer for the uninitiated. Equal parts grunge, sludge and metal, the down-tempo admonishment typifies Totimoshi’s angst-ridden musical catharsis. On “The Hide,” Castellanos’s delicate harmonies lend an almost pretty aesthetic when juxtaposed with Aguilar’s teeth-clenched snarl. “These Meanings” is a showcase for Aguilar’s spirited delivery as he goes it alone, dobro in hand, and “A Weighted Line” finds him delivering a reverb-drenched hymn over a sparse, lumbering dirge. Despite the occasional botched riff or clumsy chord change, Aguilar’s guitar work is consistently interesting on Ladrón, and Castellanos’s bass work is competent but generally fails to outmatch the din. Only on the decidedly grunge-y “Gods of Earth” is her plodding bass center stage.
On “Viva Zapata,” convulsive verses give way to an unanticipated moment of beauty as Castellanos once again joins Aguilar in delivering the memorable chorus. This reprieve is short-lived, however, as Aguilar launches into yet another stint of larynx damaging snarls and furiously strummed notes. Like Russian matryoshki, Totimoshi’s conceptual framework seems to define both Ladron and its individual parts, as both the songs and the album possess varying forms of the three-act structure (a primer for non-drama-club members: Act I, exposition; Act II, action/climax; Act III, resolution). Perhaps only the title track varies from this conceptual bell curve. It does, however, maintain the band’s love of sedimentary composition — each song finds the band amassing layers atop a nuclear theme, thus creating an entirely new architecture.
Although Totimoshi is considered part of the early-’90s discord movement — populated by Helmet, Melvins, et al. — the band’s arrangements are far more melodious than the descriptor might suggest. What’s in a name?