The jamtronica road warriors of Lotus have dropped their fifth studio album with Build, which aptly continues to build on their groovy catalog. The tunes find the band evolving their electronica meets trance rock and electro sound, with psychedelic bells and whistles galore. But stylistic diversity is scarce, with the band mining a familiar vein of similar sounds and grooves. There’s bits of dubstep that recall acts like Pretty Lights and EOTO, although Lotus impresses with how they’re more like STS9 in bringing a full band to the party. Everyone’s got their own stylistic preferences and with Lotus, it really just depends on which formula floats your electronic boat.
On the plus side, Build is a high energy affair loaded with the jammy syncopated dance grooves that fans have come to adore in the band’s groove machine live show. On the down side—and this is something that generally plagues studio albums by instrumental jam bands—the songs tend to lack the memorable signature quality that might lead fans to feel that this is a particularly significant album. But for bands like Lotus, the live show is always going to be the most important thing, where they can take the tunes and stretch them out to ecstatic peaks that just can’t be reached in the studio. The albums serve as more of a sonic memento of where the band is at during a certain time.
Lead track “Break Build Burn” establishes the vibe with prominent guitar riffs and synth psychedelia. The cosmic synths continue on “Massif”, a toe-tapper/head-nodder that serves as the LP’s first single. “What Did I Do Wrong” is one of the stand-out tracks, with a slinkier groove and dubstep flavor that doesn’t go overboard with the womp womp. “Uffi” provides a little twist with the band delving into a sound with some acid-jazz flair.
“Middle Road” is aptly named, for its another mid-tempo groove with the band’s signature syncopated riffs and electro vocal effects. Judging the song is highly subjective—one ear could feel that it’s just treading the same path as most of the band’s tunes, while another ear could hear this song with lots of potential to open up for great live jams. Ditto for “Kodiak”, which features oscillating riffs and big beats that recall electro duo Big Gigantic. Or does Big Gigantic recall Lotus? It’s frankly hard to tell sometimes with the way the electronic dance music field has become so oversaturated in recent years.
The album does step out a bit at the end with “Neon Tubes Part 1” and “Neon Tubes Part 2”, a two-part trip down a super funky sonic landscape that features the band pulling out all the stops. There’s some P-Funk “Mothership Connection” vibes with the space jam synths and the trademark muted riffs over a really groovy beat, but then a surprising breakbeat b-section comes in and the rhythm section goes off on a gallop. “Part 2” finds the band jamming the tune out with some extra synth work to deepen the groove, more like they might do in the live show.
In the end, Build is neither likely to alienate old fans nor win many new ones. The band’s talent is clear, but the best way to turn someone on to Lotus will still be taking them to see the live show rather than playing or giving them the album.