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Taking a listen to Lotion's "full Isaac" album 17 years after its release

Andrew W. Griffin
The album cover of "full Isaac" by Lotion
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CD REVIEW:   Lotion –  full
 (spinArt) 1994

Here at Red Dirt
we love music – all kinds of music. Pop, jazz, rock, country,
hip-hop, New Age – everything! And the music that played a role in our
formative years and early adulthood – primarily music released between 1985 and
1995 – is of particular interest, when not listening to and reviewing the latest releases.

And for a talented, New York-based indie-rock band like the
long lamented Lotion. Never heard of ‘em? Well, not long after seeing them open
up for The Connells in late 1994 in an auditorium at the University of South
Carolina in Columbia, I really lost track of them. I think one of my guilty
pleasure magazines, Sassy, had given
them a cute-band thumbs-up back then. This would have been a few years after Sassy included R.E.M.’s “Dark Globe”
flexi-disc in an issue. I still have it around here somewhere …

As openers, they didn’t play as long as The Connells. But I
do recall thinking it was a bit more arty than the straightforward melodic
guitar-pop offered up by the North Carolina-based headliners.

Anyway, I think I sought out their album at the time – the
critical favorite and debut on spinArt called full Isaac. I never found it at the time, sad to say. Guess I
didn’t look to hard, considering I was following so many other indie-rock bands
at the time.

Fast-forward 17 years. Am perusing the cheapie CD bin at my
favorite local vinyl shop, Guestroom Records, and I see a used copy of Lotion’s
full Isaac. It was the album I had
tepidly sought out back in ’94 but never found, and here it was. Oh, I had to
listen to it now, and for a measley 4 bucks, to boot!

Back home, I popped full
(a refrerence to Love Boat
bartender Isaac Washington) in my old-school CD jambox and start to take in the
sounds. Hot diggity! It’s better than I remembered. I think at the time I was
so excited about The Connells show (a favorite on mine to this day) and initially viewed Lotion as keeping me from seeing The Connells all that much sooner.

As one critic described the foursome, they are “(a)mbitious,
melodic, muscular, clever …” and they would be correct. Singer Tony Zajkowski,
brothers Jim Ferguson and Bill Ferguson on guitar and bass, respectively, and
drummer Rob Youngberg. They really worked well as a band and for a time, up
until about 2000, they were pretty well respected, landing liner notes on their
Nobody’s Cool disc from reclusive
novelist Thomas Pynchon and landed a brief spot on an episode of Buffy the Vampire Slayer.

So, the first track, “Tear,” has that early-to-mid 90’s
alt-rock wall-of-sound vibe, but in the British mod sense. We’re talking a
sound reminiscent of “swirling guitar” bands like Swervedriver, Ride or
Kitchens of Distinction.The production by Ultra Vivid Scene's Kurt Ralske is top shelf!

Youngberg is working those drums on “Dr. Link,” a song that
has an unusual time signature and features the Ferguson brothers connected by
what seems like a thread. Jim’s guitar is frantic and inventive. A neat song.

“Paas,” meanwhile, starts off with dreamy guitar sound that
brings to mind the debut album from ethereal instrumental band Rivulets and
Violets, a record also released in 1994. It’s a short track, with cryptic references
to dinosaurs, and never really seems to get a chance to build, like you might
expect. But then, this is an example of what full Isaac is all about – you really don’t know what the band will
throw at you next. That may sound like a sign of the band’s inability to settle
on a sound, but that’s not the case here. Zajkowski’s on the mark here. His
voice may not be the greatest but it really has a tendency to sneak up on you.

There is a real palpable power to “La Boost” and the Fergusons
really propel this song along with a youthful energy that gives you a taste of
what Lotion would go on to create later in the decade.

The standout song on full Isaac, the one I get the most
excited about, is the Indian-influenced “Long.” Anyone who has met someone from
another country, someone we perceive as beautiful – and exotic, even – who we
part ways with. It’s happened to me.

Sings Zajkowski over a tabla, acoustic guitar and finger
cymbals …

Who did I talk to in

The words I offered, obligations

And I go back to sleep

She sent a pack of pictures in the mail

And in them I looked thinner

I'm not sure, can't be certain

She was after something

She was after something. Love? A green card? Something else.
It’s all very mysterious, but with those lyrics and the almost psychedelic
Beatle-George-Harrison vibe, you want more from a song that comes in at just
over two minutes.

“Long” is followed by the fuzz-thump of “Pajamas,” which
starts out sounding like The Breeders’ “Cannonball” but slightly slower and a
little more dense musically and lyrically.

For those looking for more accessible, melodic alt-pop, “Around,”
with its strummy guitars and cello and Zajkowski’s plaintive and lovesick
vocals – “nearly drunk with desire” – really capture what was going on in
alternative rock in those days when cloudy-day Britpop was all the rage. You
really don’t hear this stuff much anymore.

What is going on with “Head”? Is the boy in the lyrics
somehow trapped? The jangly guitar, which gets louder during the “help me, I’m
burning” chorus is charming against wintry lyrics that echo with sadness.

“Dock Ellis” is a percussive pleasure that has big plans for
the listener lucky enough to give it some time of day. Strange, haunting
backing vocals – a “rumpus,” they say - appear suddenly against the tom-tom
bounce and thoroughly cool bass lines.

“She Is Weird City” is straight-up Manchester-inspired rock  while the closer, the curiously titled “Love
Theme from Santo Gold,” meanders and pulls
the disc to a pleasant enough close.

Do I like full Isaac?
Sure. I wish I’d picked it up at the T-shirt booth after that show all those
autumns ago. Instead, I was swooning over The Connells show and trying to find
a gal named Dee (she in a Chieftains T-shirt and looking too cute) whom I met
prior to the show while my younger brother James and I waited to get inside.
Memories …

Even the full Isaac
cover art – a collection of Spanish imagery, a bar of green and a pixilated picture
which is actually a scene from a concert hall in early versions of the cover –
is totally random. There is even a box in the liner notes area that says “Notes”
and space for the person to make notes, you assume.

All these years later, long after Lotion has broken up and
the band members have (assumedly) real jobs
(ha!) and other, more “adult” pursuits, full
really holds up well as a debut album from a very promising band.

Grade - A

Copyright 2011 West
Marie Media

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Andrew W. Griffin

Editor & Owner.

Andrew W. Griffin received his Bachelor of Science in Journalism from...

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