When I interviewed Lotus' Jesse Miller in January for Flagpole, the Philadelphia-based instrumental "jam-tronica" band was touring behind its live album Escaping Sargasso Sea and its remix album Copy Paste Repeat. Despite a growing following and loads of festival dates, Miller worried that the fleet-fingered, wide-ranging band might offer too many flavors to really connect.
"The jam scene is more readily open to listen to anything and that's somewhat where we got our start, so we're pretty embraced by that scene, even though we definitely try to cross over," Miller told me. "I definitely think we get written off by the more indie scene, even though I think a lot of our music sounds much closer to that," he said, citing Tortoise and Explosions in the Sky. Being on the outside looking in wasn't a new sensation for Lotus, though -- the band formed at the decidedly square Mennonite school Goshen College, which had banned dancing on-campus into the 1980s.
Lotus was already making a bid for a hipper audience, though, working on a new studio album with Bill Moriarty (Dr. Dog, Man Man). "It's more of a rock sound -- the electronic element is definitely there, but we tracked a lot more of it live instead of building the parts one by one," said Miller. "It's definitely structured more like songs."
Hammerstrike, out last month on Sci-Fidelity records, makes good on those promises, adopting more indie-friendly tones and rhythms. Tracks like "Bellweather" evoke the arty funk of Talking Heads (think "Girlfriend Is Better"), while "Age of Inexperience" finds the band at its most raw and twitchy. The latter even has (gasp) vocals, saluting adolescence with the refrain, "like stoned teenagers, we're free."
Here's hoping this new direction leaves Lotus -- and its listeners -- feeling exactly that awesome.
Lotus with Telepath and Flash the DJ. 8 p.m. Fri., Nov. 28 (doors at 7 p.m.). Mr. Small's Theatre, 400 Lincoln Ave., Millvale. $16. All ages. 412-821-4447 or www.mrsmalls.com