Words by: Greg Gargiulo | Images by: Brad Kuntz
Lotus :: 09.24.08 :: Mercury Lounge :: New York, NY
There's a certain sense of privilege associated with witnessing a musical incident for the absolute first time. A freshness of sorts, not necessarily in the fact that you're seeing and hearing something before others, but in the feeling associated with knowing that your ears and the ears of those around you are fortunate witnesses to groundwork being laid down for exponential future expansion. Such was the case for the 200 or so lucky compatriots at the compact Mercury Lounge, where Lotus presented a first-listen sneak peak of Hammerstrike (arriving October 14 on SCI Fidelity) in its entirety. Planting the holographic seeds of an LP with stunning potential and the detectable pliability of major advancements to come, they tended to each new addition with careful attention and precision, the initial, introductory phase of the innumerable performances time will eventually put into motion.
Characterized by a bounty of dueling guitars, experimentation with pace changeups and well-placed effects, Hammerstrike's versatile collection appealed to a number of emotions and spun a variety of sensations, from the pedestrian to the everyday, like cruising the open road to the highly celestial and cosmic simulation of galactic flight - all this range, and yet all still highly danceable. Returning to their proclivity towards vocals heard briefly on 2006's The Strength of Weak Ties, the new album features an even greater lyrical presence, dispersed mainly by guitarist-keyboardist Luke Miller through the use of a vocoder. The new tool was spotlighted most prominently in what has already become a welcome segment in their rotation, "Bellwether," which was strong on futuristic keyboards, stinging guitar riffs from Mike Rempel and, of course, just the right amount of cowbell. The distorted vocoder lines that repeat themselves throughout "Bellwether" - "Out with the old, in with the new/ Bring no regrets and start anew" - have a definitive, though somewhat ambiguous air about them. On the sarcastic level, they can be pointing out technology's endless cycle of replacing the fairly modern with the most up-to-date, or they can literally be saying adaptation in our time is completely essential (hence the now-ubiquitous robotic voice device). Keeping an incredible balance between traditional routes of rock, funk and jazz and splicing it with electronica through the judicious usage of digitized beats, loops and samples, Lotus is composed of pioneers pursuing both paths, leaving such phrasings entirely open-ended.
According to Jesse Miller (bass, samples), Hammerstrike is the compressed result of a sizable load of songs Lotus has been piecing together for over two years, chopping it down over time and landing on ten structurally diverse, lucidly rich numbers they felt strongest about. "Invincibility of Youth" displayed this concept perfectly as the dual drum action laid out what appeared to be a tempo-slowing breather, but soon enough, dashed into a pulsating jam of a different color, with a jubilant, bubbling procession underlined by the bouncing of Chuck Morris' bongos. Morris flexed his percussive prowess on "One Last Hurrah" as well, keeping a tribal current going in one of the wildest inceptions of the night. "Hurrah" was like a flavor-packed taste of organized chaos, with each Lotus member hammering away his respective duties and enlivening the contents between the brick walls, only further conveyed by the aggressive lighting direction that frenetically flashed around the packed confines.
|Jesse Miller - Lotus|
The first track on the new disc, "Behind Midwest Storefronts," driven passionately by Rempel's dexterity on guitar, evoked a sense of unyielding pride and confidence, something of a patriotic anthem that ambitiously states that which we cherish most. Whatever it may be. "Modicum" was a bump-and-shout throwback, soulful and relatively straightforward, the unaltered vocals reminiscent of early funk, but with plenty of openings that will definitely be maneuvered more down the line. "Age of Inexperience," on the other hand, which has also been making its rounds during the summer, has already taken on a refined character of its own. Rempel and Luke's dual-action strings wrapped around Jesse's bass like garish pieces of ribbon about a maypole, alternating at times and synchronizing at others, then eventually managing to take the lead in two divergent directions, only to reunite right back at the very start.
Hammerstrike's title track exemplified the more aerial side of the new assortment. Resounding in what felt like a stellar flare, the flight course was set by Jesse's extraterrestrial samplings and continued to accelerate through even more guitar solos and an ever-increasing drum participation defined by Steve Clemens' pace regulation and his thundering crashes and splashes. As they performed both sides of the upcoming release, from the gravity-bound to the gravity-free, Lotus took care of the directions and left it up to those traveling to merely hop in.
As if the first-time-ever debut wasn't enough, a second set that was brief on quantity but appreciatively superfluous on substance followed. "Did Fatt," with its reggae flavor and jungle-esque effects, connoted the movement of a primate making his way up a rainforest tree in efforts to reach the canopy, which, as all jungle folk know, is the true party zone. Once up there, things got a bit more out of control than the jungle floor, and measure-by-measure electricity was added to what had become a happening primal ecosystem. With spirits by that point at an extreme high, the segue into "Wax" fit the mold ideally. The oddball whimsy and rolling generator beats, touched further by the versatile percussion presentation and gritty organ work, did amazing wonders as it continuously transferred back and forth between its two main sections. Somehow Sonic the Hedgehog battling the loony Dr. Robotnik immediately came to mind.
The lack of encore, though moderately disappointing, was more than justified by the extraordinary introduction to Hammerstrike and a dominating second set. Always big on Lotus' menu, "Flower Sermon" resonated proportionately by Morris' mallets dancing on the xylophone and the peaking guitar licks that hinted at a possible "Umbilical Moonrise" or "Sunrain." A robotic "Bellwether" tease could also be detected in its latter portions, perhaps as an allusion to the role these new songs will begin to serve as they mature, finding their place amongst the others with the exposure they deserve and will undoubtedly come to receive. After all, they've only just begun to sprout.
09.19.08 :: Mercury Lounge :: New York, NY
Set One: Behind Midwest Storefronts, Age of Inexperience, Hammerstrike, Bellwether, Modicum, Invincibility of Youth, One Last Hurrah, Alkaline, Turquoise, Disappear In A Blood-Red Sky
Set Two: Flower Sermon, Did Fatt > Wax, Jump Off
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