Treasured Pasts and Bright Futures in the Gilded Age: Lotus’ Newest Album In Review
This Tuesday, instrumental five-some Lotus will release their newest full-length studio album, Gilded Age. The band has a habit of creating albums that leave no room for one-trick-pony accusations. As can be said of many of their albums, Gilded Age brings a new and unique flavor to the classic Lotus sound that rests at the heart of the band’s music.
The album overall is pure, organic, instrumental rock. That classic two-guitar and bass combo that old school fans adore takes center stage. But the band didn’t stop there when it came to instrumentals – they brought horns and strings into the studio to record on a number of the tracks. And the piano – oh, that classic piano. It’s featured throughout, and it contributes beautifully to the expansive forest of instrumentals that come together to form this album. The use of dynamics throughout the album is stellar. And arrangement of guest musicians’ parts within the quintet’s core structure is spot on. These features are a testament to the band’s success in stepping up the complexity of their compositions, a mission that was made an explicit focus in their latest two albums.
A number of the songs have meditative qualities; some, like the first single “Let Me In,” as well as “Out Of Focus” (which features a perfect storm of beats and percussive accents by drummer Mike Greenfield and percussionist Chuck Morris), blend the ambient feel with an alt-indie flair that gives the tracks a bit of an edge. Several, like title track “Gilded Age,” are stunning all-instrumental compositions. As a whole, the album gives off a serious world music vibe, with dream-like qualities throughout. These aspects remain true to the mood the band sought to create – guitarist and keyboardist Luke Miller called it one “of reflective happiness, the joy of the impermanent nostalgia of halcyon days,” while bassist Jesse Miller has said of it, “I imagine standing on the edge of town, looking back, knowing I’m leaving something behind, but looking forward to the unknown adventure ahead.” The album can be said to have its feet in two musical worlds – one, the world of the band’s origins, and the other, the world of its future. The album demonstrates how Lotus can straddle these two worlds with ease, forging onward into uncharted territory while retaining its essence in its purest form. Instead of giving you a track-by-track analysis, the rest of the article will focus on three examples that give a good overall feel for the entire album: a song that has been polished through several years of live play prior to studio recording, a remix, and a song that the band has yet to play live.
As far as previously-performed tracks go, “Gilded Age” represents all that studio production has brought to the three tracks on the album that have already made their live debut. A gorgeous all-instrumental rock composition, it is easily one of the most beautiful songs in the band’s entire repertoire, and it’s only gotten more impressive as they’ve cleaned it up since its debut at Mr. Smalls in Pittsburgh on December 29th, 2012. The xylophone-like accents (noticeable during the past couple live performances of the track) are particularly impressive in the studio version, fading in and out like a dream. Add these accents to some very passionate percussion work from Greenfield and Morris that, while occasionally getting lost in the mix during live performances, comes out loud and clear here, and the song has just what it needed to make the desired nostalgic mood shine through. The changes in dynamics, while performed live solidly, are even more discernible in the recording, and take the composition up a notch. Then there is the guitar solo. Sometimes in studio recordings, solos by lead guitarist Mike Rempel can feel a bit stunted as compared to their live counterparts (which is in some respect expected given the jam-driven nature of the band’s live performances). Not so in this instance – Rempel most certainly got to do the damn thing this time around and laid down a solo that rivals those in previous live versions. The studio version of the eponymous track succeeds on many levels. Like the other two songs that have already made their way into the live performance rotation, studio production has taken “Gilded Age” above and beyond its origins.
Then we have the four remixes. These tracks, remixed by four of the band’s favorite downtempo electronic producers (D.V.S*, Skytree, Marley Carroll, and KiloWatts-Bifocal) contribute to the meditative feel of the album, as well as its world music vibe, and bring an electronic facet to an album that is otherwise purely rock. The KiloWatts–Bifocal remix of “Out of Focus,” is a perfect example of successful melding of the original track with one’s own musical signature. With an exotic, almost jungle-like sound that has a little industrial kick to it, KiloWatts’ Jamie Watts definitely leaves his mark on “Out of Focus”, it is perhaps the best remix on the album. KiloWatts’ dark and mysterious soundscapes fit in perfectly with the ambiance created by Gilded Age, and meld particularly well with the original song.
Finally, we have the three tracks the band has yet to perform live. Meditative alt-rock number “I Want It All (To Give It Away),” previously mentioned alt-indie anthem “Out of Focus,” and all-instrumental composition “Sunset of a Giant Dipper,” these tracks hit on some of the primary rock-and-roll styles touched upon by this album. All three have all the necessary elements for a successful track. However, if I could only write about one new track off the entire album, it would without a doubt be “Sunset of a Giant Dipper.” Could this be the next “Umbilical Moonrise” or “Colorado,” the kind of heart-melting instrumental tour de force that fans beg for and receive with the highest of emotions? Too soon to tell, but I think this one is going to cause more than its share of happy tears. This may be just the kind of new song that old-school fans have been waiting for, and it may feel strangely familiar to many of them. It blends the most treasured aspects of the old with the most impressive aspects of the new. Organic two-guitar instrumentals with the five musicians stripped down to their basic and purest form, the song harkens back to those most-beloved instrumental tracks that first won over some of the band’s oldest fans. Yet at the same time, it is a reflection of the more recent focus on complex compositions, structured and heightened by the addition of a cellist and violinist who performed and recorded with the band in-studio (for a string junkie like me, this track is a dream come true). Jesse Miller commented in a recent interview with JamBase, “It’s funny, because people have told me it’s like a return to old Lotus, and others have said it sounds like something totally different.” This song is the embodiment of this dual-reaction to the album, and is a shining example of how Lotus consistently manages to stay true to its roots while bringing something new to the table.
The album has all the ingredients for success – diverse appeal, a fresh take on a classic Lotus format, deeper delving into the challenge of complex compositions. I suspect the band will find success as Gilded Age takes it into a yet-to-be-seen but undoubtedly bright future. After listening to the album, I’m with Jesse on this one: I’m looking forward to the unknown adventure ahead.
You can still pre-order the album now here to ensure you can access it as soon as possible. Trust me, folks, you aren’t going to want to wait on this one. Also, catch one of their new songs live at an upcoming performance – they will next appear at Gathering of the Vibes in Connecticut, but you can find an up-to-date list of their scheduled performances here.
- Let Me In
- Gilded Age
- I Want It All (To Give It Away)
- The Oaks
- Out of Focus
- Sunset of the Giant Dipper
- Out of Focus (Kilowatts – Bifocal Remix)
- The Oaks (D.V.S* Remix)
- I Want It All (To Give It Away) – (Marley Carroll Remix)
- Let Me In (Skytree Remix)