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Tortoise - TNT CD (album) cover

TNT

Tortoise

 

Post Rock/Math rock

3.68 | 68 ratings

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Syzygy
Special Collaborator
Honorary Collaborator
5 stars Tortoise's third album was their most ambitious to date. With the arrival of Chicago Underground stalwart Jeff Parker the band expanded to a sextet and became effectively a double trio. John McEntire by now had his own computer equipped studio complex, Soma, where the band were able to spend 10 months writing and recording this 65 minute masterwork. The results still sound fresh today, and go far beyond the confines of post-rock.

In some ways this is a difficult album to review. Despite being divided into 12 tracks, it feels like one homogenous entity. Where the 21 minute Djed from the previous album gave the impression of layers being peeled away, 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. The sound had changed too; Jeff Parker brings some implacable jazz cool to the proceedings, while there's a hint of Stereolab in the occasional horn interjections (including contributions from Chicago Underground cornet ace Ray Mazurek). The influence of Steve Reich style minimalism is a lot more explicit as well - the urban gamelan which kicks off Ten Day Interval is a recurring theme. What's most impressive is the way that the various influences blend together into a seamless whole. Although often innovative, the sound is never jarring or abrupt and the pieces are full of simple melodies that interweave and recombine into surprising new shapes. In some places you'd never guess that the album took so long to record; the opening track features featherlight drums before the guitar lays down a deceptively simple motif, and the arrangement gradually fills up with nothing ever sounding forced or unnecessary - when the cornet and trombone come in they sound like the missing pieces of the puzzle rather than an embellishment. It sounds as though it was recorded in one miraculous, perfect take. In other places their fondness for electronica and studio effects takes over, but again it is all done with the lightest of touches and every element adds something vital. At times the music hurtles along with something approaching a sense of urgency, and at other times it simply sparkles in the light, and every listening reveals new nuances and fragmentary details. Their painstaking approach to writing and recording this album is more than justified; not a moment is wasted from start to finish.

There are those who argue, with some justification, that post rock is a meaningless label. 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. It's music for the mind, rather than the heart or the feet, but that's one of the defining features of the form. This album is, as the ratings so eloquently put it, essential: a masterpiece of progressive music.

Syzygy | 5/5 |

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