Tuesday, October 21, 2014
Tortoise — “Tin Cans Puerto Rican Remix” from A Lazarus Taxon (2006 Thrill Jockey)

Let’s begin by talking names. Wikipedia explains the name of this Tortoise box set of three hours’ worth of odds and ends thusly:

The set’s title is derived from the palaeontological term “lazarus taxon“, meaning a taxon (or grouping of organisms) that disappears from the fossil record only to reappear again at a later point, which in turn refers back to the resurrection of Lazarus by Jesus in the New Testament.

That’s actually pretty fascinating, both in its scientific use and in its application here, especially considering the following:

The CDs contain 33 tracks of rare material from tour, compilation and non-American releases, the band’s out of print 1995 album Rhythms, Resolutions & Clusters, which compiled remixes by friends of the band including Steve Albini, Rick Brown, Jim O’Rourke and Brad Wood, and other previously unreleased material including a restored remix by the Minutemen‘s Mike Watt that was delivered too late for inclusion on Rhythms… and subsequently fell victim to a malfunctioning DAT machine.

Why, however, the band decided to call this version of 1994’s “Tin Cans & Twine” a “Puerto Rican Remix” defies understanding. In the end, the song does not suddenly seem so Caribbean, but rather sounds an awful lot like the original. If anything, it’s more unlistenable — the ultra high-register synth part that rides atop the original is ramped up to near dog whistle magnitude, and to little effect. Is that Puerto Rican? I’ll confess I’m not an expert on the island’s music, but I’m puzzled. Maybe the song was reworked in the Humboldt Park neighborhood of the band’s native Chicago? Producer Brad Wood doesn’t seem very Puerto Rican, and he’s the guy who remixed the song, but he did produce the record Tin Cans with Strings to You by the band Far — are those guys Puerto Rican?

In the end I’m torn. I love Tortoise a great deal, and have waxed effusive about them on this blog in the past. But if I’m honest, I feel about this reworking the way I feel about most of A Lazarus Taxon — inasmuch as it’s a Tortoise song, it’s enjoyable and I’m glad to have it, but as Tortoise material goes, it’s rather unremarkable. Maybe it diminshes my fandom somehow, but I’m not sure why this box set was released. I would likely have a different opinion if I owned the actual box set with its 20-page booklet, but as I downloaded mine from eMusic, I find I’m looking for the songs themselves to stand tall, and when they don’t, I’m indifferent, nudging up against disappointment.

Even so, this is a Tortoise song, which still means a whole hell of a lot as far as I’m concerned, so this song and all others in the set needn’t worry about their place in my iTunes library: it’s secure.




Friday, September 19, 2014
Tortoise – “TNT” from TNT (1998 Thrill Jockey)


Yesterday I wrote about the best live music experience of my life up to this point, seeing Make Believe and Tortoise play together at the Cedar Cultural Center in Minneapolis in 2007. Today, as fate would have it, it’s Tortoise’s turn on the old Shuffler.

I first heard Tortoise in the spring of 1996. I was a senior in high school, and for my eighteenth birthday my girlfriend bought me a copy of their 1994 eponymous debut. I was getting pretty heavy into jazz at the time, but this was different somehow. Today the internet calls it post-rock, which is kind of a bullshit term as far as I’m concerned (though, I’ll admit, I’ve been known to use it from time to time for its utility). I sat and listened to that CD over and over again, not always sure what I was hearing in terms of not only style, but instrumentation as well. Even so, I knew that I liked it, and tt didn’t take long for me to get hooked — at present I own all their full-lengths plus some other releases but just had my mind blown when I found this on Wikipedia:

I don’t really even know how to process that. I clicked on the link and saw that MF DOOM worked on the opening music for the game. He’s been featured on this blog before, so probably I should be working out some kind of sponsorship deal with Rockstar Games or something. Time to make some money.

Tortoise, meanwhile, are a treasure, and for my money, TNT is their masterpiece.

The title track starts lazily with jazz drumming, then, ever so slowly, the guitar offers up the beginnings of the song’s warm refrain. It’s a song that wants to take you somewhere, but wants to also let you stretch out and relax along the way, to enjoy this idea, that sound. There is a confidence to the band’s sound here; they aren’t in a hurry to get anywhere, but want to make sure to really explore all aspects of what’s possible within the given melody. In this way, it sets the stage for the rest of the album, which is much more full of melody than previous releases, but also (and this is likely due to the addition of Jeff Parker to the band) far jazzier.

Word on the street is that Tortoise is working on a seventh album. It will, of course, be mindblowing. In the meantime, if you get the chance to see them live, do whatever you can to make it happen.

From the album:

Live, somewhere: