Lotus performs tonight, April 26 at Summit Music Hall and tomorrow, April 27, at Red Rocks. The five-piece has been playing the jam band/livetronica circuit since near the turn of the century. But its compositions and sets transcend clichés and have more in common with the early 70s experimental jazz and Krautrock that informs its sound and song structures. Its imaginative use of tone and texture and incorporation of the methods and aesthetics of electronic music production has pushed the band out of being stuck in a creative rut resulting in a fairly consistent run of fascinating records and live shows.
Formed in 1999 at Goshen College in Indiana, Lotus didn’t have much in the way of an outlet nearby to perform or like-minded peers. Certainly the jam band and improvisational music world existed and groups of no small artistic merit like Widespread Panic and Gov’t Mule had already established themselves. But groups that had the electronic element were not yet so, pardon the reference, widespread. Two years prior Umphrey’s McGee had formed at the University of Notre Dame. And there was a bit of a circuit Lotus cultivated, recalls bassist Jesse Miller, a circuit playing in college towns like Kalamazoo and Grand Rapids, Michigan. In Goshen, “[there] was terrible hard rock and rap rock,” says Miller. “At the school it was more people doing folk music.”
“The local place we played was this really dumpy bar called Courthouse Pub,” says Miller. “It’s crazy to think about how people just smoked everywhere back then and that that would never change. Instead of ventilation it would be fans blowing cigarette smoke back down at you.”
Miller’s description of Courthouse Pub could apply to many dive bars and other small clubs across America regardless of the style of music you played in the late 90s through about the middle of the 2000s. But Lotus had some options for relocating to where it could easily tour the east coast and cultivate a regular audience and Philadelphia seemed like a place where they group could get some momentum going. Disco Biscuits had established itself and played bigger places. Brothers Past was active during that early 2000s period. The Ally, with whom Lotus drummer Mike Greenfield once played was also based in the Philadelphia area. Lotus went from a place with few like-minded artists to a place that seemed to have a genuine scene where it could develop and expand its fanbase. And, of course, Lotus has has since built itself into one of the most innovative and popular acts in all of the realm of livetronica.
Miller and his brother Luke, the guitarist and keyboardist in Lotus, had grown up in Lakewood, Colorado where they had a high school ska band called Put That Down, Chris that in the late 90s played events like People’s Fair, shows in the park, gigs at church community spaces. But it was nothing too serious, just friends playing and having fun, and Miller’s own interest in composition was something he pursued when he went to college. Miller garnered a healthy appreciation for jazz, particularly the late 60s and early 70s era including the spiritual jazz of Alice Cooper, the fusion era of Miles Davis (especially Bitches Brew from 1970) and Joe Henderson. Miller particularly enjoys “the textural stuff they were doing with percussion but also the groove, and trance-like nature of that.”
However, unlike, say, the Dap Kings, Lotus has never been the band to try to recreate a faithful rendering of a studio sound or era. There is a fluidity and well crafted layers of sound and dynamics that is almost its own kind of fusion—that of the aforementioned era of jazz but one that includes not just jazz, rock and funk but also more modern electronic sounds and hip-hop production. Its 2018 album Frames Per Second is a fine example of the way Lotus integrates its musical interests with its unique alchemy of ideas.
From early on in the band, Miller’s imagination was impacted by music that doesn’t seem to fit in with the image of a jam band and yet The Orb, the legendary UK production duo, exerted a strong and early influence.
“The stuff we were hearing from the Orb were so different from a rock band but we heard a lot of similarities in how they would extend things and the idea of minimalism and using sounds as part of the composition process,” says Miller.
On the new record one can hear a scintillating collage of sounds and textures that are reminiscent of the likes of Flying Lotus’ wide rangingly ethereal sounds and Daft Punk’s smooth yet renegade beats. “When I think of Daft Punk compositionally they’re very into this idea of looping, really short loops, sometimes one bar or two beats,” says Miller. “When I was writing ‘Cold Facts,” it was based around this simple bass line that’s one bar long but the way it’s set up rhythmically you can almost be fooled as to where the downbeat is. Those kinds of loops can go on for so long because what’s interesting about it is already built into the loop and it doesn’t ever need to change. That simple bass line and very simple beat frees up the space for the more complex harmonies that are happening with the keyboards and the guitar.”
As a bassist Miller is bit unorthodox in he becomes a bit of a lead player while also holding down the rhythm. Rooted in funk, Miller and his band mates approach the writing process more like Krautrock.
“[We keep] this propulsive thing going and [break] off from that and [come] back,” says Miller. “Sometimes I think of it as a sequence that’s running and I’m manipulating the synth. I’ll keep a pattern going and I’ll make subtle changes to the effects or how I’m articulating the line. Give it the idea of filtering in and out.”
In building in that ability to go off the map yet maintain a dynamic center, Lotus’ songs can sprawl where they will without losing coherence. The hallmark of a great jam band of any kind. And Miller doesn’t mind being put under that umbrella.
“I’m fine with being slotted in with that,” says Miller. “There are advantages and disadvantages to that. I think to have a unique voice you need to look for influences outside of that stuff. Honestly I can’t really stand listening to jam bands even though we are one. Once you’re inside of that you’re really exposed to the excesses and flaws that style can be and hopefully avoid them. The downside is that people have this idea that they know what you sound like without actually listening to you. That’s frustrating for any artist.”
Who:Why? plays Alopecia w/Lala Lala When: Thursday, 11.8, 7 p.m. Where: The Gothic Theatre Why: 2008’s Alopecia signaled the break between Yoni Wolf’s solo work as Why? and the band of the same name. As with its 2005 predecessor Elephant Eyelash, Alopecia included contributions from Wolf’s former cLOUDDEAD bandmates Doseone and Odd Nosdam. But Alopecia opened up even more frank lyrics and surreal soundscapes from Yoni Wolf and his brother Josiah and signaled a true synthesis of hip-hop and lo-fi indie rock in a way few other artists had accomplished up to that time except for maybe hip-hop duo Eyedea & Abilities, Aesop Rock and experimental music weirdos such as Black Moth Super Rainbow and Karl Blau. Why? took that sensibility and made it into something grand and, to use a now overused term, epic—private musings given a cinematic presentation. It might be argued that later Why? albums are better or achieve greater heights of artistic achievement but Alopecia is the bedrock upon which they were built and remains one of Wolf’s finest records in an already impressive career.
Who:Morlox album release w/Demoncassettecult, Juniordeer, Flesh Buzzard, Housekeys When: Thursday, 11.8, 9 p.m. Where: Syntax Physic Opera Why: Patrick Urn established his production and noise-making bonafides as a member of industrial band In Ether in the late 90s and early 2000s. Since then he has spent time in various cities in America including Seattle and Pittsburgh where he made dark ambient music, hip-hop beats and soundscape noise in projects like Herpes Hideaway and Syphilis Sauna. In the mid-2010s Urn returned to Denver and one might say quietly re-established himself as a producer of note among those in the know in the underground. Having worked with, among other artists, Church Fire, Urn demonstrated a mastery of sampling as a tool for composition in both the recorded and live environment. With his latest album Report From Sector zx88z out on Glasss Records, Urn worked with multiple noteworthy noise and hip-hop artists to fill out songs that were already strong, making them even more fascinating. R A R E B Y R D $, ERASERHEAD FUCKERS and Sheetmetal Skin Graft as well as HarmOny ov thee FYRE formerly of political punk band Dangerous Nonsense all shine on the record and give the songs an accessibility not always found with artists that are associated with noise and industrial music. But Urn’s music making could never be said to be limited to genre conventions of any kind. Check out this show if you’re into seeing someone pushing the envelope of electronic music because it may be the last time to see Urn perform some of these songs before he moves on to his next sonic adventure.
Who:The Orb w/Mental 69 When: Thursday, 11.8, 8 p.m. Where: The Marquis Theater Why: The Orb basically took the electronic and production ideas then influencing and synthesizing into various manifestations of what became rave music in the 90s and created a style of ambient dub and house that influenced IDM, trip hop and anyone making electronic dance music with an adventurous bent in the 90s and beyond. The duo’s latest release is 2018’s No Sounds Are Out of Bounds. If you’re thinking of going, these guys put forth sounds that transcend the usual two guys with headphones nodding their heads on stage sort of thing. Their music will reorient your brain in good ways getting to experience it on a loud sound system.
Who:Y La Bamba w/Don Chicharrón When: Thursday, 11.8, 7 p.m. Where: Lost Lake Why: Luz Elena Mendoza found a unique place as a songwriter in Portland, Oregon who is making a kind of folk-rooted pop. Her music and outlook comes out of the Mexican folk tradition inspired in part from a young age by mariachis. Her songs use her heritage to explore personal as well as collective struggles with an elegance and creativity that reconciles the dark side of life with hope and joy informed by grace and patience for the process. Y La Bamba recently released a seven inch of “Mujeres” b/w “Paloma Negra” and will drop the new full length, also titled Mujeres, in February also on Tender Loving Empire.
Friday | November 8, 2018
Who:Glacial Tomb album release w/Call of the Void and Saddle of Southern Darkness When: Friday, 11.9, 8 p.m. Where: Lost Lake Why: Glacial Tomb recently released its self-titled debut full-length comprised of seven songs of relentless blackened death metal driven by powerful yet nuanced percussion. It’s primal stuff that sounds like it was inspired by a not so far future that isn’t post-apocalypse so much as post-collapse of human world civilization as we know it. Guitars as insectoid sirens, vocals as feral pronouncements of the remnants of humanity clinging to twisted versions of earth-based occult mysticism in the attempt to garner a few more years through brutal rituals and quests to find what’s left of the planet where life itself, and not just human, might flourish again while the rest of the planet works through the toxins making it all but uninhabitable. At least that’s what the record sounds like if you let your mind wander a little. Joining the trio tonight are other local extreme metal stars in Call of the Void and Saddle of Southern Darkness.
Saturday | November 10, 2018
Who:Special Guest featuring The Milk Blossoms, Eyebeams and Wheelchair Sports Camp When: Saturday, 11.10, 8:30 p.m. Where: Next Stage Gallery Why: Special Guest is a series featuring some of Denver’s most interesting and innovative musical projects. The Milk Blossoms is a band whose amalgam of outsider pop, lo-fi R&B and vivid emotional recreations is always surprisingly deeply evocative. The Milk Blossoms is a psychedelic indie pop group with songs that deftly and thoughtfully navigate the vagaries of one’s own mind, illuminate nuanced perspectives on relationships with others and society in general and explore evolving concepts of identity. Wheelchair Sports Camp is a brilliant meeting of hip-hop, electronic production and avant-garde jazz. Also, vocals and songwriting from hopefully future Denver mayor/Colorado governor Kalyn Heffernan.
Who:Den Mother w/Klaus Dafoe and Bryon Parker When: Saturday, 11.10, 9 p.m. Where: The Skylark Why: This lo-fi pop/rock show includes Bryon Parker of noisy post-punk band Simulators (he recently released a collaborative single with Jad Fair whose solo career is noteworthy on its own but who was also a member of foundational indie pop band Half Japanese and may be known for his album with Daniel Johnston). It is also the final show from indie rock band Den Mother whose own Misun Oh is leaving Denver for Ohio after living in the Mile High City for over a decade. She was once married to cartoonist/visual artist/songwriter John Porcellino of King Cat Comics and Stories fame (she is depicted in several issues). But she also contributed to Denver’s underground music and art community as a gifted practitioner of Chinese medicine and as a musician and supporter of the local music world in her own right as a member of French Chemists and other projects.
Who:SPELLS, Eyes and Ears (tape releases), Great American House Fire (tape release) and Hooper When: Saturday, 11.10, 8 p.m. Where: Lost Lake Why: Good thing SPELLS says 80% is good enough so that the other bands that aren’t such a party punk band can shine. Eyes and Ears comes off of de facto hiatus with a new release and a reminder that pop and loosely conceived punk can be fun if the people in the band don’t take it too seriously. Great American House Fire also releases a tape this night with its unique take on the kind of music that came out of late 90s emo, post-hardcore and Americana. Hooper might be considered pop punk but it’s a bit too gritty for that even if the anthemic and glittery melodic hardcore flavor of some of its sounds suggest the pop punk connection.
Who:Deca w/Felix Fast4ward and Stay Tuned When: Saturday, 11.10, 8 p.m. Where: Leon Gallery Why: Deca from New York is operating in that realm of hip-hop that uses samples that give the music a downtempo vibe with a touch of the otherworldly. Like maybe Deca drew some inspiration from, of course, J Dilla and Blockhead. The 2018 album Flux is instrumental album that works incredibly well on its own as a sound environment form of storytelling but also well suited to someone else’s words. Like-minded Denver acts Felix Fast4ward (whose own beats cross effortless between the realms of hip-hop and deep house) and Stay Tuned whose songs are socially critical but playful and powerful.
Sunday | November 11, 2018
Who:Cro-Mags w/EyeHateGod When: Sunday, 11.11, 7 p.m. Where: The Marquis Theater Why: This double bill of two legends of punk and heavy music is interesting given the backgrounds of members of both bands. John Joseph of Cro-Mags grew up in foster care in New York City, Mike Williams of EyeHateGod got to experience life after both his parents died when he was a child and he left home in his mid-teens and occasionally spending time homeless. Cro-Mags were one of the most important and influential of the New York City hardcore scene known for a kind of tough guy image that was combined with ideas about self-defense, physical as well as psychological, in a hostile world and a clear need for camaraderie with like-minded types in a real, human way that isn’t in step with stoic, tough guy machismo. EyeHateGod’s records, coming out starting in 1990, had songs about self-loathing, despair at humankind’s collective self-destructive behaviors including cruelty toward one another. Williams’ words so insightful about how those self-destructive tendencies in the human psyche manifest on the personal level continued to evolve and refine its critique not just of society and the self but also of the bases of cultural norms themselves. But never abstract, always accessibly personal and vulnerable.
Who:Endless Nameless, Giardia, Feigning, Masons When: Sunday, 11.11, 8 p.m. Where: Thought//Forms Why: Endless, Nameless is a jazz-inflected math rock band from Denver. Fans of Covet should check them out. Giardia is a jazzy experimental metal band. Masons make the kind of post-rock that bridges the gap between breezier shoegaze and the more introspective side of Modest Mouse. Feigning will bring something a bit darker with its noisy, menacing darkwave.
Tuesday | November 13, 2018
Who:Behemoth w/At the Gates and Wolves in the Throne Room When: Tuesday, 11.13, 6:30 p.m. Where: The Ogden Theatre Why: Behemoth formed in Gdańsk, Poland in 1991 shortly after the nation re-established itself as a democratic republic after decades of domination by the then splintering U.S.S.R.. It was a time when black metal and death metal were cohering in the European underground and a theatric sensibility informed how that music was performed throughout Scandinavia and formerly communist states. Initially, the band had a sound that was not unlike that of its peers, a kind of taking thrash and death metal and either pushing it to a brutal, forbidding extreme or giving it an epic, almost orchestral, grandeur. Behemoth did a little of both and injected the music with occult and fantastical/mythological imagery and themes—which it has continued to do up to and including its 2018 album I Loved You at Your Darkest. But the latter is arguably the band’s best album at times sounding like it synthesized a Napalm Death-esque assault with a sonic transcendence, creating a contrast that the band uses with great dynamic affect across the whole record. That you also get to see At The Gates, the Swedish melodic/Gothenburg death metal legends that came up at the same time as Behemoth in the early 90s, and Wolves in the Throne Room, the Olympia, Washington-based black metal band whose own sound is informed by the natural environment of their home region and synth heavy Krautrock, is more than just a bonus but probably the best heavy music line up in that vein for the rest of the year.
Wednesday | November 14, 2018
Who:Rubblebucket w/Thick Paint and Toth When: Wednesday, 11.14, 7 p.m. Where: The Gothic Theatre Why: Rubblebucket’s 2018 album Sun Machine is a powerful and intimate depiction of survival and the drive to create something meaningful in the most trying of circumstances. Annakalmia Traver and Alex Toth had been a couple but had split while making the new record and in there too Traver struggled with and overcame a bout with cancer and Toth came to terms with his own challenges with alcoholism. Those kinds of pressures often break bands and relationships of all kinds. But the bond between the two artists persisted and they found a way to articulate difficult truths with a poetic truth and its typically eclectic and dynamic songwriting. This may not be the band at its yet-to-be-attained peak but it certainly is a high point for Brooklyn duo.
Who:Weird Wednesday: Mirror Fears, Lady of Sorrows and Hot Slag When: Wednesday, 11.14, 9 p.m. Where: 3 Kings Tavern Why: This edition of Weird Wednesday includes performances from ambient/dance/noise phenom Mirror Fears. Lately she’s been performing some visionary deep house style music that isn’t a huge departure from her already fascinating work in the realm of emotionally-charged darkwave. Lady of Sorrows is darkwave/dream pop with operatic vocals. Hot Slag has similarly dusky soundscapes but more in the vein of a compelling crossbreeding of IDM and weirdo hip-hop.