CD review: Lettuce, ‘Crush’ creates new funk standards, set for Crystal Bay Casino Feb. 11
Editor’s note:Lettuce will appear on Thursday, Feb. 11, at the Crystal Bay Casino.
Lettuce’s reign as the baddest funkosaurus of the land continues with the release of its fourth studio release, “Crush.”
If you look at its last two studio albums you’ll notice a pattern in how the band chooses the names of its records. “Rage!” was a tight, party album that put the bump in your rump. “Fly” soared on the band’s willingness to stretch songs out and to explore its sonic ranges. Lettuce distills the album into one action and goes on to show you why. It doesn’t have time to give you some long-winded title because actions speak louder than words and the music speaks for itself.
With “Crush,” the band does just that and stomps out the competition under its feet like the surreal funk elephants with tubas for heads that adorn the cover. Eric Krasno (guitar), Adam “Shmeeans” Smirnoff, Neal Evans (keyboards, Hammond B3 organ, piano), Adam Deitch (drums/percussion), Erick “Jesus” Coomes (bass), Ryan Zoidis (saxophone) and Eric “Benny” Bloom (trumpet) are as cohesive they have ever been together and still looking to push the limits of their sound.
Lettuce just does not settle on a groove, it dictates it. The band’s thunderous entrance, “The Force,” is as triumphant as it is regal and suits the grand spectacle of watching a prizefighter march to the ring, with Zoidis and Bloom’s hook exploding like pyrotechnics on the turnbuckle. The group is merciless in its pursuit of core-rattling funk and it strikes a similar, bombastic chord on “The Lobbyist” and “Silverdome,” the latter pitting the charging guitars of Krasno and Smirnoff against the Shady Horns (Zoidis and Bloom) in a knock-down, drag-out jam that is louder and more abrasive than its catalog.
The players met at the Berklee College of Music in Boston where the members first started to stitch together their vibe, with a common love of jazz and funk heavy-hitters such as Herbie Hancock, Tower of Power and Earth, Wind and Fire being the common thread. You can hear that old-school influence in “Get Greasy,” its description all in the title, and “Sound’s Like A Party to Me.” The two songs bounce and glide with that 1970s nonchalance cool, but it is more amplified in the band’s energy and tone. It is taking that secret, backroom jam session between a handful of hip musicians and blowing it up into Madison Square Garden-sized party.
Where some bands may gravitate toward fostering an old-school sound, Lettuce is more interested in continuing to cultivate its own blow-your-hair-back sound. It is creating a new standard for funk that is more nuanced as it integrates influences from the digital age. Smirnoff’s dizzying guitar riff on “Phyllis” immediately puts you in a sonic vortex that is falling through space. Throughout the jam, the band layers celestial overtones over each other and you become mesmerized by the billowing sound. It has the swirling production of a Pretty Lights track that perfectly blends those atmospheric elements with a concentrated beat.
Lettuce continues to forge new territory on “Trilogy,” which shoots between three different jams like a futuristic funk mixtape. Evans owns the first section with his rat-a-tat, fuzzy synth riff that the whole band steps in line to and he passes the torch off to Smirnoff who anchors a sparse second section with his finger-picked licks. Saving the best for last, Lettuce blasts off into a total hip-hop jam with Smirnoff’s sinewy riff jumping up and down to Deitch’s sticky beat. It’s really impressive to hear a band take a digital artform and put it down to analog, nevermind that the jam will get you drinking and two-stepping at the drop of a hat.
“Crush” is just an undeniable piece of art that is another quality addition to the band’s legacy. Do yourself a favor and pick up some fresh Lettuce for a well-balanced dinner of funk.
Lettuce “The Crush”
Release: Nov. 6, 2015
Label: Velour Recordings
Notable Tracks: “Phyllis,” “Trilogy,” “The Force”
ABOUT Garrett Bethmann
Garrett Bethmann is a graduate of University of Mary Washington with a degree in English. An eight-year resident of Lake Tahoe, he now lives in Denver, Colorado.