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Published: 2003/06/26
by Jesse Jarnow

Germination – Lotus

Harmonized Records 009

"The guitar is really a very primitive instrument," my instructor once told
me. "Just a hunk of wood with some pieces of metal stretched across it,
really." It was an effectively modest nugget of wisdom from a man who made
his living playing in Long Island cover bands and teaching dorks like me how
to play Pearl Jam songs. Jim was, of course, right, and what that means is
that no matter how hot-shit some guitarist is, he's basically doing stuff
that could've been done anytime since the invention of the electric guitar
— which is what makes a band like Lotus interesting.

Their music is the latest in a stream of bands that – like Sound Tribe
Sector 9 and The Disco Biscuits before them – emulate electronic music on
their instruments. For Sector 9, the band Lotus most closely resembles, the
ability to integrate new phrasings and beats has allowed them to push off
into their own inward-developing style. For Lotus, it's just another idea to
add to the vocabulary of an improvising rock band and, as a result, the band
sounds a lot more traditional than they might hope.

There are parts in their songs – specifically the album opening "Umbilical
Moonrise" and "Nematode" – that sound, well, like the Grateful Dead. The
beats are a little bit more modern, the snap rolled off the snare and toms
to give them a perkily deadened inhuman/robotic punch, but the guitar
phrasing is rock and roll. Actually, there's a point near the end of the
former track where the solo switches suddenly from gentle Deadisms into a
distinctly new phrasing. It's rare to have examples of the two kinds of
playing toggled so abruptly, and one really gets a sense of just how the
"new" method works as a tool.

Though it never would have occurred to them, there was nothing preventing
Dick Dale or Scotty Moore or any of the other early guitar heroes from
playing solos like the kind Lotus deliver on Germination. After all,
they had guitars, and they had hands. The difference is in the way the
guitar relates to the drums, the way the phrases fit around the beat,
instead of on top of it. Likewise, there is a different kind of phrasing
within, a different sense of linearity. Where in the older kind of phrasing,
a note might be sustained for emphasis, in the newer kind, it might be
broken into several mechanically rapid pixellations.

It's there, actually, that one finds the metaphorical differences
represented. Big sustained notes sound like tube technology, the humming
electronics that defined the Space Age. They sound, for all their richness,
pre-digital. Shorter notes, especially when precisely sliced, sound
perfectly digital. A good example of the transition between the two ideas
comes within the first five minutes or so of "Umbilical Moonrise" as the
clipped notes of the opening phrase begin to get imperceptibly longer until
they sound "organic" and begin to breathe where they once sounded
"electronic" — even though its the same instrument that's playing both of
them. It's nice playing.

Though they might not acknowledge it, Lotus seems to be the first of this
crop of bands to not play at being an electronic act that would
appeal to rave kids just as much as hippies. There's almost nothing about
that could be mistaken for a DJ or a producer, but that doesn't make it bad.
It's all very mellow, and would sound thin on a dance floor (not enough
pumping bass), but would sound rich and full coming off a stage.
Germination is a very pretty record and is highly recommended for
what it is.

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