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Tortoise - Standards CD (album) cover




Post Rock/Math rock

3.42 | 55 ratings

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4 stars The fourth full length album from Tortoise, called 'Standards' released in 2001, sees the band stepping even further away from the post rock genre they helped create. After the jazz-infused sound of the previous album 'TNT', the band took it upon themselves to keep exploring, which is what the best bands do, and not getting stuck in any one formulaic style. 'Standards' sees Tortoise instead adding more electronic sounds and utilizing more post-production and focusing less on melodic structure and more on subtle changes.

The beginning track 'Seneca' however, does not reflect the overall movement to a more minimal sound as it begins with thick layers of rolling drums, crashing cymbals and thick guitars. After a 2 minute introduction in this manner, a heavy drum pattern is emphasized and the track settles in to this strange groove with an almost retro organ sound and a somewhat tricky, yet percussive guitar pattern. Strange squeaky sounds come in during a section when the music quiets, then the heavier organ and guitar return. It's a bit noisy and rough sounding, but not to the point of abrasiveness. This fades and leaves us with a droning synth and hand clap effects among other strange effects. 'Eros' then makes fun of the last guitar riff, then settles into electronic and organic tonal percussion. This is where the bands playfulness and ingenuity really takes off as they manipulate sounds and play with layering. The music never becomes boring here, but sounds nothing like the post-rock you have heard before. It's like they have taken all of the formulas of popular music and disassembled them only to build them back together into something fresh and exciting. Parital melodies seem to swirl around odd sounds and effects. This was the new style they were now exploring.

'Benway' sounds like a stripped down and manipulated electronic study. Again, only hazy semblance of melodies try to take hold, but to no avail. Finally, around the 3 minute mark, a jazz-tinged style comes in and things sound similar to 'TNT', however, the band sees to it that it gets interrupted by complex fills and break downs. But it all develops again only to get destroyed again at which point it suddenly ends. 'Firefly' uses manipulated guitar sounds and minimal droning to create an ambient track unlike anything else. The sounds are approaching an art-style experimentalism, and again, melodies try to take hold, but just don't quite succeed. It makes for an interesting sound. 'Six Pack' suddenly takes over as the music continues to flow, and goes for an upbeat, percussive sound with spaghetti-western style guitars, vibes and other percussive instruments turn this into a lighter and happier track. It's as if to say, don't take it all too seriously because it's all just for fun when it's all said and done. Once again, melodies are ignored to allow patterns and sounds take the spotlight, and the music is all built off of that.

'Eden 2' goes for a heavy drum and bass style track with funky synths and etc. Again, the use of typical melodies is ignored for the sake of experimenting with patterns and hints of jazz sensibilities. 'Monica' goes for an interesting r&b sound, adding more funk and slithering drum effects. The drums get a bit more disjointed and noisy as it goes on while the bass continues with the simple melodic pattern. Things get more complicated as it continues and beats and sounds morph into strange effects and manipulations. 'Black Jack' begins with it's odd-normal style with a simple feel, but later becomes more structured, having a loungy, European sound. The music is more melodic here with the use of keys, synths and percussion. Guitars build as things continue, and the contrast of bright and dark creates an interesting texture unlike anything else. 'Eden 1' has a standard drum pattern going on, but the keys are playing something else in a completely different universe.

'Speakeasy' starts off sounding like ambient and deconstructed jazz. Soft vibes and percussion is occasionally interrupted by harsh noises from manipulated guitars. It all settles into a medium rhythm before 2 minutes, and is finally satisfied to settle into a smoother sound. There is always a feeling of unease underlying it all. Soon, things soften again to ambient and sparse sounds produced by wavering keys and bass effects while strange noises and feedback continue to disrupt the ambience, becoming more and more relevant until the smoother sound attempts to come back. It's a nice closer to the album, and also sums up the bands more experimental sound that is explored extensively on this album.

I find this album to be very unique and innovative. I love the way they experiment with the things in music that would normally not be so front and center on most popular music albums, playing around with patterns, disrupting them, adding to them or making subtle manipulations to them. I also love the move to more extensive use of percussive instruments and effects. This music sound pretty much like nothing else you have heard, and is actually more experimental and avant prog than it is post rock or progressive jazz. It takes these styles to the next level to the point that you are convinced that you are not listening to those styles anymore, but hearing something completely different and unique, yet still quite musical, with surprises around every corner.

TCat | 4/5 |


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