Lotus is one of my favorite bands, live and recorded. Their style is always morphing, although many would classify them as jamtronica, a mix between electronic and jam. Their latest album, Free Swim just out, is an eclectic mix of styles but stays true to the Lotus core. Lotus always has both a funk feel and a fusion feel like some of the bands from the 70s (Weather Report) or 80s (Pat Metheny). Free Swim has enough versatility to appeal to those unfamiliar with the band and many throwback styles to please those well indoctrinated. They’re always pushing the edges and this album is consistent with that, adding touches of vocals, flute and sax as accent pieces along the way. Let’s dive in and go track-by-track.
Catacombs kicks off with some groove percussion (Mike Greenfield and Chuck Morris) before a heavy bass line kicks (Jesse Miller) in and then the keys/synth rollout (Luke Miller). The main guitar theme by Mike Rempel instantly fingerprints it as a Lotus tune and is one that will be quickly recognized when this tune is performed live. The bass and kick drum are a great pulsing backdrop to the the synth simulating a string section. After the low end guitar led bridge, there’s a nice airy flute section played by Sam Greenfield (from Cory Wong’s band among other groups). Then back to the main theme, this time with the flute supplementing the sound. Just past the midpoint there’s another low end guitar-flute break with a tremendous build to launch back into the head. The guitar-synth-flute combo that follows is reminiscent of instrumental quiet storm music. The last section with flute-bass intro followed by full band collaboration is sublime. Despite the subterranean intimation from the title, this song is bright and takes flight – a great start to the album.
Turtlehead starts with a drum-percussion roll that initially sounds like a reggae beat with reverb before some very dreamy guitar (Luke on hollow acoustic) + bass strikes. Rempel comes in with some slow rolling for the main melody. Then Luke comes back on synth with punchy notes. This one would be great listening with margaritas on a beach. Just after the midpoint, there’s a break into some sparkling synth again. Rempel comes back with the main guitar theme and I can see him play this with his eyes closed gently rocking. Chuck is playing some electronic percussion accompanied by some EDM-like synth. Like Catacombs this tune will have the imprimatur of even the most hardy Lotus fans.
Free Swim kicks off with the kick drum and heavy bass with synth lasers flying. Luke comes in on a Kawai grand piano with some very jazzy licks and the lasers keep flying. Rempel is playing part of the main theme fully sounding like a synthesizer. When the whole band joins, the melody is super powerful. I’d imagine this one is a great tune for people unfamiliar with Lotus to cut their teeth on. It’s so bouncy and will be a great dance tune live. The piano sound is a pleasant diversion from the more typical Lotus electronica. The break the bass and percussion tandem driving hard before some cat-call sounding guitar work comes building to a strong jam. The last deconstructed section leads back to the main theme for the closeout.
Sepia Rainbow starts with a soft piano – guitar combo with terrific bass harmony before the rest of the crew brings the main melody. This one has a darker sounding chorus, perhaps the signal for the Sepia Rainbow title. Luke is rotating between keys and Rempel is locked in on this groove first with an acoustic sound and then some heavier tones. He alternates these two sections several times in the tune. The tune is haltingly comforting and has the feel of nu jazz. There’s some cool B3 sounding undertones throughout giving it an old school feel as well. This is the shortest cut on the album but definitely one likely to be stretched out live.
One Eyed Jones is one of my first faves on the album and it starts with a real funky beat for a brief second before the band comes forth with the main theme. Shortly after there’s the surprise addition of sax (Sam Greenfield again) and trumpet (Jay Webb) that support the tune throughout, expanding Lotus’ already rich sound. The horns bouncing back and forth with Luke on synth is killer. The interplay between Rempel and Jesse midway is classic Lotus sounding like it could come from the 2013 album build. The break with vibe synth and horn accompaniment is lush as a rain forest. With the keys and synth over the top of the bass and the horns rolling it sounds like it could be 70s funk classic.
Bjorn Gets a Haircut starts with a classic synth-bass line followed by Rempel laying down the main theme and them wham – Luke hits with some programmed background vocals. This time it’s more of a spritely chorus than a dictated voice over as in an earlier Lotus song, ‘Wax.’ setting the the overall upbeat tone. Luke bounces back and forth between synth and grand piano for the midsection. Luke and Rempel team for a nice break section midway. Bjorn is ripe for some extended live riffing sandwiched between the hard driving rhythm.
Straight Blade The synth start with the rapid drumwork signals an EDM-like tune, a definite Lotus influence. The video also has some speed and blur effects to match the song tempo. There’s some nice synth harmony over the top and then Rempel comes in on guitar with the overall melody. Jesse has some terrific bass lines on the bridge and then Rempel layers on a saturated guitar sound. What’s terrific is that there are sections that are very jammy and others that are fully arranged. This is typical of many Lotus tunes making them appealing to many types of listeners.
Earl of Grey starts off on cruise control with a relaxed feel and then there’s some beautiful lyre vibe sounds that Luke brings via synth. The main melody is some nice back and forth between synth and guitar. Rempel has another excellent jazzy solo in the last third of the tune. Chuck has some more pronounced conga playing here as well. The call and response from guitar to synth leading up to the close is a cool touch. As with so many Lotus tunes, it’s very chill and beautiful to hear.
Snake Island opens with a classic funk drum roll with Chuck on congas with Rempel and Jesse laying down some backbeat before Luke comes in with some old school Latin-feel piano work. All of a sudden this tune reminds me of the great Santana sounds of the 70s. It’s less electronic morphed and more acoustic overall. Sure enough, Rempel takes a solo midway that Santana would be proud of. Jesse is vibing with picked quarter notes on the low end. The keys solo toward the end has the reverb turned up slightly giving it a dreamy feel. Snake Island is a very danceable tune and another fine listen.
Land of the Lush starts with prolonged organ chords with some short electronic synth-bass layered on top for contrast. Then in an unusual arrangement for these guys, Luke is playing grand piano as the harmony and Rempel comes in with a signature melody. This one sounds like more than five players, which often happens with this band. The video album shows an underlay of what appears to be a small town, Midway Jesse takes us through the bridge with bass before Luke takes another solo on the grand piano. The pace picks up with Rempel taking us along for a ride with some majestic picking. There’s a centipede like sound in the background giving the impression of increased speed. And this one appropriately closes out this wonderful turn of an album with gusto.
Watch and Purchase Album
Free Swim is a grand summary of where this band comes from and where it is today. The album has a mix of songs incorporating some of the original Lotus compilations while at the same time sounding very futuristic and fresh. You can watch the full album recording below left and then purchase the album and more from the Lotus collection with the link on the right.
- Luke Miller – keyboards, guitar
- Jesse Miller – bass and modular synth
- Mike Rempel – guitar
- Mike Greenfield – drums
- Chuck Morris – percussion
- Sam Greenfield – flute (Catacombs), sax (One Eyed Jones)
- Jay Webb – trumpet (One Eyed Jones
- All music written and produced by Luke Miller and Jesse Miller
- Recorded at Spice House Sound Philadelphia
- Recording Engineers Eric Bogacz and Alex Santilli
- Mixed by Jesse Miller
- Mastered by Ryan Schwabe
- Cover Art by Jesse Miller
- Copyright/Published by Lotus Vibes Music