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Tortoise - TNT CD (album) cover

TNT

Tortoise

 

Post Rock/Math rock

3.68 | 68 ratings

From Progarchives.com, the ultimate progressive rock music website

Pnoom!
4 stars The end of pre-post rock (sorry, had to include it somehow)

I have recently been sinking into the joyous world of post-rock, and I'm not sure I'll ever be able to leave. I find little more moving than the tortured metal of Kayo Dot, the pensive electronica of Ulver, the uplifting joy and beauty of Sigur Ros, the depressing rage and fury of Mogwai, or the politically minded drones of Godspeed You! Black Emperor. All of these bands, to me, epitomize what post-rock is all about: emotion. They all bring about different emotions, but they are united in that they all do cause me to feel something, no matter what it is. All of them are also notable in that they bring about stronger emotions than any other kind of music I know. As OpethGuitarist (a fellow prog reviewer) said in one of his post-rock reviews, this style of music is the real emo (don't get any negative connotations from this, they would all be unfounded, as this sounds nothing like the "I'm going to cut myself now" music typically associated with the label emo). All he meant is what I've just said: that this is emotional music, capable of making you feel. Tortoise, however, is different. They do not make music with the intent of making you feel, they make music hoping to make you think, to make you contemplate the intricate nature of their relatively simple music. Syzygy, in his review put it well, "it's music for the mind, rather than the heart." I do have to disagree with his comment about this not being music for the feet, however, for while this album certainly does focus on the mind, I often, while listening, find the urge to tap my foot to it quite irresistible. This is some of the catchiest prog you'll ever hear, but that in no way means that it's not difficult music; I assure you, it is.

In many ways, it would seem inevitable that I would love post-rock. After all, my favorite genre of music is Krautrock, and post-rock is heavily Krautrock influenced. The climaxes of post-rock songs are simply extensions of what, in Krautrock, is known as a "freakout," where the song builds up to a stunning section that sees all the musicians doing their very best. Also, the simplicity of the music is a trait shared across the two, though it is used in vastly different ways. The electronic elements incorporated into a great deal of post-rock was first pioneered by Krautrock (indeed, the main prog electronic bands on this site, Kraftwerk, Tangerine Dream, and Klaus Schulze, all either started as Krautrock bands, or, in the case of Schulze, played in a Krautrock band). Finally, it's a futile argument to say that the drones used by many post-rock bands are not inspired by the kosmiche style of Krautrock music (highlighted by bands such as Cluster and the Tangerine Dream album "Zeit" - the latter of which was described on a website selling it as "probably the single most non-God Speed You Black Emperor recording that we get people asking 'Is this God Speed You Black Emperor?' when we play it"). Relating specifically to this album, the drumming, at times (especially on the title song), reminds me of the drumming of Jaki Liebezeit of Krautrock band CAN (who also happen to be my favorite band). That said, I don't love all post-rock I know (for example, the band Explosions in the Sky completely fails to impress me).

Almost as futile as (if not more futile than) arguing that post-rock drones take nothing from Krautrock drones is arguing that post-rock is not prog (which I have seen done far too many times - including in one review of this album). To make that argument requires an extremely close-minded view of what prog is, and, at least to me, one of the highlights of prog is how it takes an open mind to appreciate, thus creating a contradiction of sorts that those who truly feel post-rock is not prog must work around. Before I make my case for including post-rock as a form of prog, however, let me look at the roots of prog for a bit. What does it mean that the style of music we like is "progressive" rock? It can mean one of two things: a) it can be the incredibly conceited meaning, that this is forward-thinking rock (which it is, but lots of forward thinking music is not prog, and thus this title being used exclusively for one style of forward-thinking music is conceited), or, b) it can be the far less conceited and far more likely meaning, that this is music where the songs PROGRESS over time. Songs do not pick one theme and stay with them for their duration, but build around many themes. Though repetition can be and is used (as this album clearly shows), songs still do evolve. To me, that is what it means to be progressive rock, and thus this album (and most other post-rock, if not all) qualifies as progressive rock.

Now that I've thoroughly exhausted you with that long introduction, let me move on to actually talking about the album in question. When I bought this album, I was not a huge fan of post-rock (at that point, I could not stand Sigur Ros's Agaetis Byrjun, which is now my favorite post-rock album and one of my favorite albums of all time), and I bought this album in an attempt to find out how post-rock began (this is one of the first post-rock albums, hence the "the end of pre-post-rock" comment to start my review). While I, at the time, enjoyed this album far more than any of the other post-rock albums I knew at that point, it was not until I discovered Mogwai's Happy Songs For Happy People that I truly fell in love with post-rock (and taking it even further, it wasn't until I came to love Agaetis Bryjun as I do now that I truly went head-over-heels for the genre). Recently, however, I have been revisiting post-rock, and this album has, along with Agaetis Byrjun, really stuck out in my mind as one of the peaks of the genre (though I have not yet gone through and listened to Godspeed You! Black Emperor yet in this post-rock revisitation. they're next on the menu).

I find it somewhat sad how few reviews this album has (a problem that plagues much of the post-rock genre - this is probably the only genre on this site other than Indo Prog/Raga Rock that an album with thirteen ratings and an average rating of 3.88 stars - the statistics before I revised this review - could be in the top twenty albums of the genre). It is a fine album (one of the finest I know), and it surely deserves more (especially considering that Systematic Chaos by Dream Theater, which has not yet been released as I write, has almost three times as many reviews as this album). Don't be dissuaded at how (relatively) unknown this album is around here, however, as that doesn't at all detract from its brilliance. As other reviewers have noted, this album is, in many ways, one extended track that lasts for twelve songs. Syzygy put it best when he wrote, "TNT gives the impression that each track is a different facet of a the same piece, or perhaps the same piece viewed from a variety of different angles." This album truly does feel like a single piece of work, though that is not to say that each track sounds the same - far from it. It blends a wide variety of styles, and while it fits generally under the label of post-rock, but I must again quote Syzygy, this time his comments on Tortoise's relation to post-rock, "Tortoise are widely considered to be pioneers of the genre, but on TNT they transcended the boundaries of post rock and a dozen other equally redundant style tags." On this album, you will hear plenty of post-rock, but you will also get jazz, electronica, and even some modern style Krautrock. What Tortoise manages to do (brilliantly, I might add), is blend all these styles into one mix that feels uniform, and yet is varied enough not to leave the listener bored. That takes talent and, at least on a personal level, is very, very impressive.

Usually, in my reviews, I give a lengthy description to each track, but this review is long enough as it is, so I'll just briefly describe the journey that is this TNT. It starts with the fantastic minimalist cover, showing a doodle on fake loose-leaf paper. Then, as you put the CD into the player, you are immediately confronted with Krautrock-style drumming. On top of this comes beautiful melody, introducing a theme the song will return to several times and build around for the duration of the song. Where TNT (the song) left off, Swung From the Gutters picks up, starting soft and spacey and introducing new melodies and drumming. This is one of the weaker (in a purely relative sense - nothing on here is at all weak) pieces of the puzzle, but it's great nonetheless. Ten-Day Interval is next, with a beautiful repeated melody interposed with more beautiful melodies that ebb and flow like the tide. This song is varied, and it PROGRESSES, but it manages to do this while still centered around a main theme. I Set My Face to the Hillside is my favorite part of the album, a stunningly beautiful piece that words fail to describe. The Equator starts introducing electronic elements, which will appear more forcefully later on, but still focuses on intertwined melodic arrangements. A Simple Way to Go Faster Than Light That Does Not Work creates beautiful soundscapes (I'm sorry if I'm overworking the word beautiful, but it truly does describe much of this album). Some of the melodies here remind me of Kraftwerk, only done better (and Kraftwerk was nothing if not a fine, fine band). The Suspension Bridge at Iguazu Falls is next, and gets right to business, evolving into a deep thrumming song, very much subdued but still capable of grasping you and keeping you listening. Four Day Interval is a reprise of sorts of Ten Day Interval, building around a very similar theme, but doing so in a vastly different way. I prefer this one, but, thankfully, I don't have to choose between them, because they're both on the album. In Sarah, Mencken, Christ and Beethoven There Were Women and Men starts taking the album in a more electronic direction (which will be further developed on the next two tracks). Almost Always is Nearly Enough (I love the title, which can be interpreted two ways) comes next, and seems to be a nod to the song Atem off Kraftwerk's Kraftwerk II (one of their Krautrock albums), though, again, done better, mixing electronica and breathing perfectly. It scared me off the first time I heard the album, but now I see how it fits into the big picture of the piece. Jetty is a longer piece, one of the longest on the album, and also one of the most progressive, even if it does have a strong electronic feel. Everglade, which closes the album, returns to the beautiful and dreamy soundscapes of the first half of the album, and brings the piece full circle.

I'm sure that my review, despite its length, does not do this album the justice it deserves, so I urge you to go out and buy it as soon as you can. It's a purchase you will not regret. Interestingly, despite the title, TNT, this album does not ever explode, but stays a perfect "kick back and chill" album for its duration. I wouldn't have it any other way. This album is more than just a highlight of post-rock, it's a highlight of all music. If you'll spare me one final quote, I'd like to quote the guidelines for a five star review, "essential: a masterpiece of progressive music.

Rewritten 05/22/07

Pnoom! | 4/5 |

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