For an album so interested in questions about atmosphere, Totally does little to push past its own into something more.
From the washed-out album cover to the playful band name to the dude-lingo title Totally, you may think you know what's coming on Andrew Caddick's new record. You may be expecting bright, sunny beach tunes, the kind of stuff we might have not long ago called chillwave. But opener "Blue Dream" dispels any of those assumptions right away. The song starts with the sound of storm. It's not close, not yet, but it's rumbling and it's coming closer, that much is clear.
If it contradicts the album's visual aesthetic, it sets up the record that follows perfectly. This is summer music, that's for sure, but it's more for summer storms or oppressively hot yet overcast days. Totally isn't about throwing your neon-framed shades on and hitting the beach with some buds and a cooler full of cheap beer. This is about peeking out from behind your shades, about thinking about going outside and deciding against it, about simultaneously wishing a thunderstorm would end and watching it with fascination.
If there is a perspective to these songs, it's a muddled one, as if looking through that rain-lashed window pane. The spare, shuffling percussion makes room for melting guitars and keys and vocals often echoed into incoherence. It's hard to make out what Caddick is saying -- "I need your touch," he probably pines at one point in "Slow Burn" -- but that hardly seems to be the point. He takes the clink-clank drums and faded voices of "Maple Bars" and makes something that is as much a memory of a song as it is a song itself. On "Gravity Bong", he starts with some sort of Spector-esque chiming beat and drags it down into gray hues of melancholy. "Evaporated", maybe the most upbeat song here, takes the formless sway of guitars and synths and brightens them up with a simple but propulsive beat.
This is all to say that he takes his basic elements in lots of different directions, all dreary but distinct enough. Caddick also seems keen to play on the idea of summer and its artifacts with song titles like "Limeade" and "Chlorine" and even the slacker junk of "Gravity Bong" and "Maple Bars". But for all the artifacts in the titles, the music itself is terribly elusive. If there are ideas of twisting summer music into something darker, it's hard to see what the point of doing so is. Totally is both compelling for the ways it makes us rethink beach tunes and disappointing for the way it lets the questions it raises sit unexplored. For one, the textures themselves don't always work. The too-light layers of "Slow Burn" feel less like dark turns on familiar sounds and more like the cloying, airy feel of elevator music. "Sunroof" tries to bring things to life with vital handclap percussion, but the over-treated vocals on top are messy and incoherent. "Spanish Tile", meanwhile, could be a fruitfully swampy tangent, but the melodies wander and unravel more than they explore.
For an album so interested in questions about atmosphere, Totally does little to push past its own into something more. In the end, the music starts with a compelling idea but retreats into sameness. It's more than telling that Caddick's vocals, though sweet and ethereal at their best, muddle his words to where you can't make sense of them, because in the end this is an album that stops short of saying anything. It nods to summer jams, and then points to itself, says "look, see, it doesn't all have to sound the same." Caddick is right, it doesn't, but for all its difference, any twist of expectation is only a half-twist, since this bogs down in the same slacker shuffle you'd expect from any beach-bum music. In the end, Totally shows there's a difference between watching the storm from inside and whipping up one of your own.