The Strength of Weak Ties – Lotus
Harmonized Records 026
Given the speed and edge of its new album, it feels odd to say that Lotus has grown up. But, at time same time, The Strength of Weak Ties marks an exciting stylistic evolution for one of the jamtronica scene’s reigning princes. Pennsylvania based, like the Disco Biscuits and Brothers Past before them, the quintet has style, flash and, most importantly, adrenalin, all of which add up to an exciting live show. An instrumental act, Lotus seems poised to follow in the footsteps of Sound Tribe Sector 9 and the New Deal, primarily live bands known more for the energy of their shows than their, um, songs.
But, happily, Lotus has found a solid middle ground on The Strength of Weak Ties, its latest studio album on Harmonized Records. The quintet — Steve Clemens, Jesse Miller, Luke Miller, Chuck Morris and Mike Rempel —hasn’t lost its energy, yet it’s figured out how to balance the dynamics of its live show with a more refined studio sound. Unquestionably, The Strength of Weak Ties’ biggest evolutionary step is the addition of vocals on three tracks. Provided by guest singer Steve Yutzy-Burkey, the disc’s vocal cuts add a cool edge to The Strength of Weak Ties sound, recalling the urban credibility which has allowed likeminded acts such as Brothers Past and the Duo to veer towards the eclectic. Lotus has also learned the craft of a great hook, whether it comes in the form or a linear guitar solo, bongo beat, or computer enhanced sample.
But, while both Brothers Past and the Duo both have found their recent success by studying more current indie rock trends, Lotus has dug further into its electronica influences. On the trancey “Tip of the Tongue,” Miller’s keyboards and programmed patterns benefit from their studio massage, a testament that the studio can be a useful tool. The bouncy “Epidemic” will appease Lotus’ more straightforward jamband fans, a hint of what Phish’s “Foam” would sound like if written for the podcast generation. A late album highlight “Blue Giant” has a breezy, Air-like quality, complete some acid jazz, and 1984-like vocal samples. Throughout, drummer Clemens’ electronic drum beats and percussionist Morris’ hand percussion keep the group intact and fun; The Strength of Weak Ties is eclectic without sounding scattered.
Thankfully, though, The Strength of Weak Ties straddles the fine line between Thursday night thinking and Friday night tweaking, as Lotus balances it more reflective moments with the dance party characteristic of its show. “Bubonic Tonic” bubbles with the 80s dance party vibe so often associated with the New Deal, while “Kesey Seed” is a genuine guitar epic, disguised in the middle of a late-night rave. While bassist Jesse Miller channels his inner Marc Brownstein on “When H Binds to O,” Lotus never comes off as a baby-Bisco band, adding an industrial layering to its sound which could exist on the fringes of MMW’s far-off land. Lotus has also created livetronica’s first Jammy-worthy ballad, “Sprout to Vine,” fleshing out its electronic undertones with acoustic guitars and some impassioned, singing from Yutzy-Burkey (on that track Lotus unintentionally seems to nod to both Radiohead and the Arcade Fire — and that’s a good thing).
Just as the jamband album was declared dead, a new generation of bands hint that the studio can be a springboard for creativity, not just a restrictive boundary. In fact, The Strength of Weak Ties may appeal more to indie rockers and ravers than the hippies.
Either way, one thing is clear: Lotus has a long studio career ahead of it.