Hearing Aide: Lettuce ‘Crush’

It’s only been three years since we last heard an official release from the funky innovators known as Lettuce. And while that might feel like an eternity, the coming of Crush (Expected Nov 06, 2015) marks the quickest turnaround between albums in the band’s history. It can likely be chalked up to the extensive time spent together on the road, sparking tons of raw material for the band to work with.

With eighteen tracks and a musical journey covered throughout the album, it’s tough to touch on just a few highlights. Damn near every song has at least one riff or section that can grab your ear and dial you in to a fat groove, and that’s being modest. Either way, they’re back with the most aggressive, ambitious, and funkiest album to date; Lettuce all be thankful.

Crush starts off with the sounding of the Shady Horns, announcing “The Force” and setting the tone for the rest of the album. The band’s play on words with Lettuce Crush (Let Us Crush) is felt from the start with a tight pocket and hypnotically heavy riffs. An immediate evolution is heard on the first track as trumpeter Benny Bloom and saxophonist Ryan Zoidis’ effect-laden horns blaze the way. They’ve certainly been toying more in the live setting with effects, but it’s great to hear it on an album. Zoidis’ sax solo on “The Force” provides some brass foreshadowing for the rest of the album. From start to finish though, this song serves as an anthem to announce the bands triumphant return!

If you’ve seen the band out on the road in the past year or so, there are a good number of songs that will sound familiar. The band used that time together to road test and evolve their ideas. That being said, there were many on Crush that haven’t been played at all, or at least minimally, and are just getting turned loose now. The deeply introspective “Phyllis” was from the road tested bucket. While simple and laid back in nature, Lettuce somehow captures that live magic and is one of the early highlights. The song allows the listener to catch their breath after a typical Lettuce onslaught of fast-paced funk that starts things off. Going back to back with “Phyllis” is the light-hearted Nigel Hall led “Sounds Like a Party.” As with other Nigel songs from previous albums, they nail another classic sing-along and will have you piping in by the time the second chorus comes around.

As the album blazes on, there’s a noticeable sense of diversity that hasn’t been explored to this depth on previous Lettuce albums. While the band has always had their hand in funk, hip hop, jazz, and soul, this album seems to dive in and explore other dimensions to a deeper degree. “Trillogy” specifically is one of the standouts on the album, exploring a hip hop sound like they never have before. It’s  also one of the heaviest songs with the first two phases of the song building before taking a dip into the heaviest groove on the album. With innovation like this, there’s a hope that we might one day see an actual MC make a debut on a Lettuce track as a guest. The band has deep connections and fans would fully support an appearance from Talib Kweli, a member of the Wu, or another gifted rapper they’ve crossed paths with.

(From L to R) Adam Deitch, Eric Krasno, Erick (Jesus) Coomes, Ryan Zoidis, Neal Evans, Eric Bloom, Adam Smirnoff.

Following “Trillogy” is the dynamic and fluid “Pocket Change.” This could be a play on words as the band places a heavy focus on the pocket in terms of rhythm and this certainly changes its rapid pace throughout. This song harkens back to some Soulive-jazz influences and reminiscent of the rhythmically intense song “Nyack” from their 2002 release Outta Here. The stark difference between “Trillogy” and “Pocket Change” is something that Lettuce is not only capable of, but one of their strengths. Solos on this include a Zoidis/Deitch syncopated back and forth battle early on that surely spurred the subsequent appearances of Eric Krasno’s guitar in response. Neal Evans and the Shady Horns interplay throughout is an interesting conversation to listen to as well. With so many layers, its easy to say that you should never get bored with this band.

If you’ve never had the opportunity to dive into some Lettuce head first, now might be a better time than ever. Crush is the convergence of road tested and polished material, musical exploration, deep pockets of groove, and a band that is simply on top of their game. With a discography full of hits, this album somehow stands above them all. For the non-musician, the band has endless groove with an allegiance to the pocket and a keen ability to get your foot tapping. For the musician, the band has all sorts of rhythmic and melodic folds to listen for that can keep you eating for days. This album is no different from any of their previous records in that manner, but so different in every other sense. Lettuce all be thankful that they’re back and ready to Crush.

Key Tracks: Phyllis, Trillogy, Pocket Change

The album is set to be released this Friday, November 6. If you’d like to pre-order Crush, click here. There are a ton of limited edition bundles and every order comes with instant downloads of “Phyllis” and “Elephant Walk.”