Richard Youngs & Alex Neilson – Electric Lotus / Lotus Edition

Electric Lotus: 4 out of 5

Lotus Edition: 3 out of 5

Label: VHF

Produced by: Richard Youngs & Alexander Neilson (?)

I really missed this the first few times through. Electric Lotus – the LP side of this, featuring Youngs on electric guitar and Neilson on percussion (and there’s bass and some other stuff in there too – maybe some crazy ass horns? Maybe some way inhuman vocals?), is very loud, and it’s absolutely to the point of distraction. It works for shock value, as does the fact that Youngs is actual goddamned riffing like Zeppelin or Sabbath on tracks like Kickin’ Thru Glass, but then the improv part of this thing takes over and it’s too easy to hear volume and not the interplay that’s going on; it initially seems too random to work as just an assault, and then not structured enough to function as a musical conversation between its players.

I’d enjoyed opener Teeth immensely, right from the first listen, which is maybe what makes digesting what follows require more scrutiny: Teeth is a Lightning Bolt jolt: Youngs and Neilson take their time to weave and wind through one another and then build to jazz skuzz freakout intensity, both shredding with precision on their tools. It does not feel improv – it feels like something honed to be an all-time performance. Glass, the followup, kicks off well, with that meaty riff, but this is where the album then started to lose me: it no longer felt like anyone was playing off of one another, rather just, like, playing. And Neilson’s sense of drumming didn’t match Richard’s intensity on the guitar, or at least its volume; the former was playing light jazz fills while the latter was rockin’ metal. This kind of desync was all I heard thereafter, making for a pretty unenjoyably noisy record.

On one last “what is it about Teeth that’s so much better?” listen, for whatever magic reasons cause music to suddenly click, I now ‘heard’ that core riff that starts Kickin’ Thru Glass maintained throughout. It gets buried, but it’s in there, looped ‘neath Youngs going nuts on top of it. And Neilson starts out his drumming playing in time to that, and also stays rooted to it, while slipping in and out of patter that works with Youngs’ extra layer. It’s crazily fascinating, and more skillfully layered than I had at all been giving it credit for. It’s a perfect complement to Teeth’s frazzled nature, as it’s actually both more tethered and unleashed at the same goddamned time. Mute Action also takes a cue from its name and applies these concepts to something more stripped down. It’s still noisy, but more patient and open; a bit more typically “improv,” but you have to set aside the forefronted electric guitar to tap into that, and then once you’re tapped in… you can embrace it.

The closing title track puts this stuff together in a 23 minute opus. …Except yes, it probably doesn’t need to be that long. The group achieves synthesis of Lightning Bolt intensity and minimalist noise and metal rockin’ and amped-up improv and hits a stunning conclusion at about the 14-minute mark. And then, y’know, keeps going. The playing thereafter is damned impressive, just goes back to the well. They missed capping off a perfect (if not necessarily accessible) LP by not wrapping it up earlier.

Lotus Edition, an accompanying live CD, is comparatively very okay. It follows something a bit more linear at first blush, as the players – now Youngs on shakuhachi and Neilson on pitter-patter drums – get used to the cadence as the set proceeds. The tracks have similarly-named counterparts to the LP, but besides some light themes, I’m not sure how directly they reflect one another; however, due to those themes, Edition is an appropriate chill yin-yang to Electric’s intensity.

The first two songs on the CD are pretty quiet. Glass Teeth is pretty standard fare jazz club stuff – a wind instrument following a breeze; drums rolling along – and Mute Kestrel picks up Mute Action’s stripped down vibe, now ultra stripped down to slim, reedy notes and the vaguest rumble of bass drum (it is, perhaps, a little too tame). Sepia Tear has no LP partner, and whether by design or due to me being overly analytical about this whole business, it doesn’t sound quite like anything else on the whole album – Youngs’ loose shakuhachi playing is replace with more somber, drawn out tones, and jazz tap-taps are now backed by bowed cymbals and drone – this is in line with VHF’s more experimental output, and it’s an engaging and haunting track.

The title track does the same tonal combo trick of its LP pairing, meaning it actually has a sense of build: a minimalist opening has Patrick gathering his sticks and making random, intrusive clatter while Youngs barely plays his instrument, but they both – after a long while – start to get slowly more and more aggressive and in sync, making the last couple of minutes a pretty exciting confluence of sounds. It’s still in the general laid back mold of the album, but it’s pretty exciting exactly as compared to that standard.

Closer Kick Vent doesn’t add much after that, really just seeming like a coda to the evening, and mirrors Mute Action’s stripped down and sloooow mood, like, woof, we needed a break after getting positively riled up with that last song…!

Besides the vague linking between the two albums, I can’t say the whole thing benefits from being listened to together. Electric Lotus is definitely the win, not only for simply being more lively, but also for its more daring and fascinating interplay, even if you have to sort of struggle to hear it. Lotus Edition, meanwhile, is much more typical improv, a night with quiet clapping and knowing nods in the audience, and might pass for something too generic and snoozy if not for a couple of key highlights where the material comes alive, and makes giving the album a spin at least once worth it. So you might not return to the latter, but given the chance, the former might earn a constant rotation spot, sneaked in with some more typical metal and rock stuff on your shelf.