LOTUSHALO / MERCATOR, Split 12″ (Champ Records)

Two Murfreesboro instrumental bands, Lotushalo and Mercator, have put together a fitting release — one 12″ LP with four songs from each group on each side.

The two groups are an easy pairing for such a release. Each’s music draws on the recent history of such bands as Slint, Tortoise, 5ive Style and June of ’44. While comparisons are easy to draw, the bands individual approaches to their craft are quite different.

Lotushalo, a trio, compose their songs of rhythms, accents and textures. Often eschewing melody in favor of texture, a hi-hat strike could act the same as a guitar note. With Lotushalo’s tightly-knit tracks, no instrument solos over the others; it’s often how the instruments fit together that provides the dynamic for the songs. In “Four Man Raft,” two guitars alternate rhythms, chords and riffs as the song builds to its climactic finale where drums and guitars chug together like a robotic Slayer. The loose jazzy feel of the intro to “Catch a Flick, Dance or Bowl” suddenly coheres into a sharp riff. Like their other tracks here, the outline of the song is usually fairly linear: taking the listener from one point to another only occasionally repeating itself.

Mercator, a four piece, is the more conventional band of the two. Their music is grounded deep in groove and melody allowing the two guitars to play their lines over the top of a steady backbeat. “Rebuilding the Ladder of Patience” is perhaps the most memorable of their four songs here. Easy melodies glide over the tight bass and drums. Guitar timbres which shift from icy clean to fuzzy highlight the distinct melody lines. Lest one think that the group is all pretty and pleasant, “In A Mirror” shows off Mercator’s ability to balance rocking out with their inate sense of groove and melody.

The record was self-recorded and produced and shows remarkable industry. In addition to the fine sound, the packaging is unique and tasteful. Each 12″ LP is packaged in a screen-printed sleeve with a simple print on the cover. Included with the 12″ is a CD of the entire record which is also packaged in a screen-printed sleeve. It’s rare that a band’s packaging matches the musical talent within, and vice versa. Local bands of any style could learn a lot from these ambitious groups.