The Philly region spawned both Lotus and Dance Party USA. Coincidence?
Talk about taking a surprising career turn. Copy/Paste/Repeat, the new remix CD from the Philadelphia, PA jam band Lotus, takes a totally different direction than you'd expect after the band's previous release, the live Escaping Sargasso Sea. That double CD showed the five-member band stretching its jazz-flecked electronic-based music out into improvisational on-stage jams.
Copy/Paste/Repeat (subtitled "Lotus Remixed") completely eschews that approach and pushes the band headlong into bona fide electronic dance music. Here, a handful of DJs tweak tracks from previous Lotus releases with mostly positive results. While it can't be considered a new direction for the band per se, the fact that Lotus conceived such a CD shows the band's uniqueness. What other jam band's music could survive such a treatment?
I'm not big on conspiracy theories and speculation, but here goes my attempt at musical psychoanalysis anyway. Lotus' homebase of Philadelphia has always been a dance floor-friendly city. Some of its noteworthy denizens have included the girl group the Orlons, the Philadelphia International production team of Kenny Gamble and Leon Huff, and rappers Schooly D and Will Smith. But most significantly (for our purposes, anyway) was a totally kewl afternoon TV show called Dance Party USA.
Yes, Dance Party USA. If you're between the ages of 24 and 40, you probably remember this show as the 1980s counterpart to the old American Bandstand program, where teens danced the weekday afternoons away to the latest hit songs. Both shows, by the way, originated from the Philly area, although Dance Party was filmed in the nearby town of Secane. Dance Party got mocked as a cheesy, low-budget affair where the loud music was bested by the kids' louder clothes. And there's some truth in that (although some of us here may have an affinity for this program because – ahem, cough, cough -- we may have danced on it one or twice…although we'd never admit to that in print, of course). Anyway, I contend that Dance Party USA -- goofy as it was -- was hugely influential and helped spawn the hip-hop explosion of the 1990s. Why? Well, because the program brought cutting-edge dance jams into the living rooms of suburbanites who otherwise would never have heard the stuff. A pre-fame Nine Inch Nails were guests, for example. My guess is that the members of Lotus were influenced by now-forgotten regular Dance Party artists like Leila K ("Got to Get"), Redhead Kingpin ("Pump It Hottie") and India ("The Lover Who Rocks You (All Night)").
A natural affinity for dance grooves is what underpins all of Lotus' music and makes the band's new CD in particular work as more than an intellectual exercise. Copy/Paste/Repeat reinvents the jam band's music as dance floor jams, with hip hop and trance-influenced beats and mind-warping electronic synth burbles. That approach is as equally interesting and limiting as you'd expect. Most of the remixes here would get the nightlife crowd at your local club moving, all the while never imagining that the main audience for the band is more likely to wear tie-dye than tight pants. The downside is that the cool rhythms and additional sounds don't quite add up to tracks that work when the listener is away from the dance floor.
For this project, Lotus chose songs from its previous two studio CDs, ignoring anything from its 2003 debut effort Germination, and gave them new treatments. Four songs were pulled from the band's 2004 CD Nomad. One of those, "Suitcases", gets a second remix. The bulk of the CD is comprised of new versions of tracks from the band's last studio effort, The Strength of Weak Ties, from 2006. Three of those tunes ("Tip of the Tongue", "When H Binds to O", and "Bubonic Tonic") get more than one remix each.
Some of the dial twiddlers include DFA Records' Juan Maclean, who speeds up the previously laidback "Bubonic Tonic" with a tight drum machine pattern that's slightly reminiscent of late 1980s New Jack Swing. San Francisco dance scene veteran DJ Harry overlays spacey synth voicings on his reworking of "Tip of the Tongue". That same tune also gets a reggaefied rethink by the electronica group Telepath (called "Tip of the Dub") as well as a house music-influenced remix by Lotus bassist Jesse Miller. Hm…New Jack Swing and house music. Didn't I hear those genres all the time on some long-forgotten TV dance show I used to know? Maybe, maybe not…I'd better move on…
The Minnesota-based electro-acoustic artist Skytree (Evan Snyder) chimes in with a mix of one of the band's most popular tunes, "When H Binds to O", that renders it all but unrecognizable. Snyder deletes the main riff and exchanges the heavy Led Zeppelinesque drum sound of the original for a complex, trippy rhythmic pattern. Marc Cazorla, of the Los Angeles-based experimental rock band the Frequency, turns the previously stompy "Travel" into airy Enigma-like trance music.
If all this experimentation gets you in the mood to try your hand at some remixing yourself, you're in luck. Lotus is letting its fans engage in a make-your-own-remix contest by offering the source files of the track "Bubonic Tonic" on its Web site (look towards the bottom-right on the "News" page). The band will eventually choose its favorite submissions and feature them on the site.
Virtually all of the 12 tracks included here have the rump-shaking potential envisioned by their respective remixers. What keeps this disc from being transcendent is that most of these mixes don't really improve on the original tracks. Nor do they bring out elements that lend a new dimension to this music. My positive impression is largely due to the band's audacious concept. Copy/Paste/Repeat represents a bold step for a band that clearly does not want to be pigeonholed, and is succeeding in keeping those who would typecast them uncertain. What is certain, I believe, is that Lotus has some Dance Party USA in its collective unconscious. If anyone bumps into Jesse Miller, please ask him for me if he remembers a blonde hostess from a TV dance show who went by the moniker "Princess". Betcha he'll know who I'm talking about.