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Tortoise - Tortoise CD (album) cover




Post Rock/Math rock

3.59 | 46 ratings

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4 stars Over the years, Tortoise has been involved in all types of musical styles, but once everything is said and done, whatever they do always bears their signature sound, heavy on the bass and drums. This style is easy to understand seeing that the roots of their music comes from the partnership of Doug McComb, the bassist from 'Eleventh Dream Day' and drummer John Herndon, who originally wanted to be session musicians. They soon teamed with another bassist Bundy K. Brown and another drummer John McIntire and percussionist Dan Bitney. Thus, the first iteration of Tortoise was born, and in 1994, they released their first studio album 'Tortoise', which, unbeknownst to them at the time, would become a very influential album in the rise of the progressive sub-genre, Post-Rock.

The album starts right out with a perfect example of the bass and percussion sound that would define their style with the track 'Magnet Pulls Through'. A bass and drum foundation is established with a repeating pattern and various other sounds and effects are built upon that. But the coolest thing here is the very heavy 2nd bass that keeps appearing and taking the track over, making its various statements and then allowing the other instruments to continue their groove until it's ready to speak again. 'Night Air' moves along slow and sluggish with a heavy back beat a crawling bass line and what sounds almost like an accordion trying its hardest to be insignificant.

'Ry Cooder' is quite a bit smoother sounding, this time both basses play off of each other while percussion keep things slow and steady, except for a few sudden outbursts. In the middle, things get soft for a minute while you get the sound of a lot of people talking, then suddenly things go into a cool, jazzy section with sustained vibes driving the sound. 'Onions Wrapped in Rubber' begins with a processed drum to make it sound like it's under layers of blankets. The beat stops and eerie, atmospheric sounds echo and swirl around a high-pitched, but soft drone in an experimental and minimalist track.

'Tin Cans and Twine' starts off with a subdued bass and beat. This one is more melodic than the last, and as it goes, it builds off a slow crescendo. The pattern seems like typical post rock, but the melody, even if it's produced by the bass, has a very happy and positive feel to it. Guitar and other layers are added in, including a soft electronic sound. 'Spiderwebbed is the longest track at over 8 minutes. It starts out with the two basses playing off of each other, one setting a repeating pattern while the other improvises over it. After a minute, a drum fades in with a mid-tempo beat. This pattern builds as other sounds join. It may seem like it is just repeating continually, but if you listen closely you can hear a lot of things going on here as it continues. After 5 minutes, the foundation melts into the music and everything just sort of floats as the percussion keeps time.

'His Second Story Island' produces a pensive bass line with other atmospheric sounds which echo and meld together. 'On Noble' has interplay between a low and high bass line and establishes a nice groove with some up beat drums and percussion. There is also a breezy effect involved here. 'Flyrod' has a mysterious James Bond style between the basses with a tap-tap rhythm going on underneath almost like a beating heart. It remains pensive through it's 3 minute play time. 'Cornpone Brunch' starts off with a sample from The Who where they name off the days of the week before it falls into its upbeat feel with a jazz mentality. It's a good positive sound to end the album with, indicating great things to come in the future. Suddenly it becomes quite rocked out as things get more intense, then it calms again.

There is so much in this album that would indicate that Tortoise was not a band to settle into one single genre, always trying new things, but still retaining that signature heavy bass and drum sound. Even when they ventured into indie-folk territory, they still kept that minimal, yet groovy sound. This album did a great thing to introduce this band to the world, and their use of experimental and minimalistic styles kept the band current and different. They don't put out new albums often, but each time they do, it's a surprise to see where they will go next. Tortoise no doubt had huge influence on progressive rock and showed the world new and exciting places to go with the elastic boundaries of the genre. It also influenced so many artists to come in the next decade. With all of its influence, and with the variety demonstrated among a unique line up of instruments that usually end up in the back of the mix for most other bands, this album deserves to be put in the category of essential albums in new progressive music.

TCat | 4/5 |


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