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Published: 2004/12/01
by Brian Gearing

Nomad – Lotus

Harmonized Records 019

There is electronic music and there is dance music and there is jam music, and somewhere inside the walls of that pyramid is a vast emptiness that allows the mind to focus and wander simultaneously. Lotus is comfortable in that space, content to meditate on whatever musical idea may be flashing through its collective mind at the moment. But for those listening to the quintet's new album, Nomad, the sound of five guys meditating together may be the auditory equivalent of watching paint dry.

Lotus's debut live CD, Germination, showed a lot of promise, especially when they were willing to let their minds and fingers wander a bit from the straight and narrow, but the studio has stifled all the band’s improvisational instincts, forcing them to stay too long on the beaten path. In this case, however, the beaten path is more like a nighttime interstate drive through nowhere with no one else on the road and nothing on the radio, just the monotonous on and off of the incessant passing of broken white lines to slowly lull you to sleep.

There are moments when the scenery seems to be changing: the out-of-place accordion sound and Afro-Cuban rhythm of "Ball of Energy" would argue that this band does indeed have a bit of soul. Chuck Morris's acoustic percussion provides the heart, and for once, the rest of the band catches on. They're all so busy having fun when the song moves into the faster pace of drummer Steve Clemens' drum 'n' bass that they hardly notice the change, and the transition back to the softer, acoustic beat is equally seamless. Jesse Miller's too-often veiled funky bass and the hip-hop thump of "Greet the Mind" and the rock urgency of "Plant Your Root" are equally welcome changes to the repetitive trance pulse that dominates most of the album.

For the most part, however, every song follows the same pattern as the opener: "Suitcases" starts out with a funky, tricked-out break beat that sends hopes soaring, but without enough fuel for the journey. When the generic um-tah falls in behind a repetitive, rolling bass line and wavy synth washes with light jazz guitar, the whole ship drops into a tailspin. Aside from occasional, barely noticeable changes, the energy of most of the tracks remains flat throughout. The nifty rainfall effects of "Livingston Storm" can't save a song that replaces a boring drum beat played by a real human being with an even more boring one made by a machine. "Travel" commits the same sin, replacing a gritty, keyboard riff that is the driving force of the song with more bleeps and blips over a standard electro-beat.

In their attempt to combine the introspective, spacey sounds of DJs like Shadow and LTJ Bukem with the purely hedonistic dance grooves of an ecstasy-soaked warehouse and the mish-mash of jam rock, Lotus finds itself unable to move forward, having grabbed the wrong tools out of each genre's toolbox. They lack the energy of dance music, the mind of electronic music, and the virtuosity of improvisational rock, and are left stranded in a roadless desert with smoke pouring out of the windshield of a car that never started, and there's not a drop of water in sight.

With Nomad, Lotus's goal is an egoless musical trip where the journey is the destination, but if the journey never begins, where does that leave the traveler? Stranded alone with nothing but the cold, empty dark of a present with no past or future, there's little motivation to go anywhere. Perhaps that's the point, but if the point is to have no point, then why bother in the first place?

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