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4 stars this is more loose and jazzy than their later records, some magnificent moments on it, some improvised, other written and constructed, listen to TNT , and their brilliant kraut like 22 minutee opener on "millions now living" and youll love this album, john mc entire shines on this album, you can clearly hear it was "HIS" band these early days.
Report this review (#110325)
Posted Thursday, February 1, 2007 | Review Permalink
3 stars Tortoise is a fitting name for this unassuming Chicago-based instrumental quintet, specializing in exactly the sort of music you might expect to hear from a shy amphibian living comfortably inside his self-made shell. Never mind the Post Rock/Math Rock label, which is little more than a flag of convenience: they're just another unique band marching to the beat of their own drummer, who in this case happens to play a lot of tuned percussion.

Describing the music on their self-titled 1994 debut album can be a challenge (and that fact alone should be enough to recommend it). But a quick study of the instrumentation ought to give you a good idea of their sound. The group employs five musicians: three of them on bass guitar, and three more playing some kind of keyboard instrument (note the electric harpsichord), with yet another combination of three sharing percussion duties (including vibes and marimbas).

Now, take a look at the song titles, some of them mini-masterpieces of Dada absurdity: "Onions Wrapped in Rubber" (a drifting ambient industrial interlude); "Tin Cans and Twine" (the perfect description for such a casual, back-porch sort of jam); and "Cornpone Brunch" (well, what else would you call a cool retro- lounge jazz pastiche with a KRAFTWERK-like vocoder intro?)

You fill in the blanks. In short, this is the work of serious artists with a sense of humor, always a healthy combination when exploring the outer fringes of musical eclecticism. The album may not grab your immediate attention, but give it time: like Aesop's fabled tortoise it might surprise you at the finish line.

Report this review (#158777)
Posted Wednesday, January 16, 2008 | Review Permalink
Honorary Collaborator
2 stars Tortoise is the self-titled debut studio album from US ( Chicago) experimental/ post rock act Tortoise. The album sounds much like I anticipated it to sound, so even though I´m a novice when it comes to the post rock genre there´s no surprises here.

The music is based on a strong rythm section with two drummers and two bassists ( it might even be three) ( pretty strange constellation) and most songs have a very stripped down sound. The use of vibes in a song like Ry Cooder gives the music a slight jazzy touch, but most songs have repetitive rythms and very little melodic content ( this is my opinion and others might feel differently about it). There´s also a couple of more ambient-like tracks in Onions Wrapped In Rubber and His Second Story Island.

The musicianship is very strong and there´s some really excellent rythmic material on the album.

The production is warm and powerful. Note that really great bass sound.

Even though the album has excellent musicianship and interesting ideas my overall impression of the music is that it´s too repetitive and too many songs sound too much alike. I like some parts of the album but I can only give it 2 stars. I can´t say that I´m not intrigued and I will definitely check out more of Tortoise music but this album doesn´t really fit my taste.

Report this review (#196101)
Posted Monday, December 29, 2008 | Review Permalink
5 stars In 1994, Tortoise released their first LP, self titled and sporting an elegantly simple album cover. Over the years, they would become one of the premier bands in post rock. This album is quite different from the others in their catalogue, because there aren't so many different effects and techniques; while TNT for example dabbled in many musical zones, Tortoise, for the most part, sticks to a drum and bass led style on this album. There's certainly diversity between tracks, categories being: murky, muddy near-ambience (Onions Wrapped in Rubber, His Second-Story Island, Flyrod): relaxed, carefree drum/bass led efforts (On Noble, Night Air, Tin Cans and Twine): tighter, more energetic drum/bass (Spiderwebbed). Magnet Pulls Through uses elements of both the muddy/murky and the relaxed drum/bass, while Cornpone Brunch is alternates between relaxed and tense, except for the vocoder-spoken intro, which I am not a fan of, but I don't find it particularly annoying. The best track is probably Ry Cooder, which doesn't really fit any of the categories; it is at different times relaxed, loud, jazzy, and murky. Highlights are songs 1, 3, and 6. Definitely one of Tortoise's better efforts, maybe even their best. Highly recommended to anyone capable of enjoying diverse, experimental instrumental music.
Report this review (#278581)
Posted Monday, April 19, 2010 | Review Permalink
Sean Trane
Prog Folk
4 stars Opening album from one of the more original bands in the last two decades, this self-timed debut is clearly one of the cornerstones on which Post-Rock's foundations were set. The Chicago combo is led by John McEntire who produces the group's works/albums as well. If this album is indeed one of the pioneering form of post-rock, Tortoise's music will always be hard to describe as their music always changes from album to album (and track to track), which is generally not the case with most of the other formations in that niche or pigeonhole. One of the main trademarks of Tortoise is the vibraphones, sometimes two or three simultaneously, but also a more synthetic sound (sometimes Techno-ish or trip Hop) than most of the movement's future star groups.

Musically we're still quite far from talk talk's last few albums, the other Post-Rock cornerstone, opening on clumsy saturated guitar strums, Magnet intrigues the listener and has him perk his attention to a slowly evolving and crescendoing beat, where the intermittent killer bass lines add much drama. One of the album's highlight is the middle section of Cooder, where the vibes come in a charm your eardrums out of your skull, while the drums and bass are jolting out of your speakers?. Awesome stuff, still now, more than 15 years down the line. Some of the group's music can be strictly ambient and sinister as Onions shows with these feedbacks and basic drumbeats, a bit Krautrock-ey or Kosmische ala early TD or early Kluster. Tin Cans builds upon a nagging whistling noise, and turns out to be quite enjoyable. The general moods of the album range from quiet introspective to softly sombre to the Scandic-type melancholies with a tad of trip hop feel (or future trip hop, since this album precedes that movement) and to top it all of gentle techno music touches. The guitar often takes on a bluesy tone (ala Ry Cooder or Taj Mahal precisely, while the bass often strolls around the pace of the tracks. The closing Cornpone Brunch track returns with the vibes, but their delicate sounds get crushed by the grinding guitar parts.

Although many of today's Post-Rock top groups seem to be solely inspired on GYBE!'s sonic realm or Tarentel, it's quite clear that the Montrealers and Friscans owe almost everything to the Chicagoans of Tortoise, and that makes this band uniquely important and unfortunately often eclipsed by the uninventive Mogwai or EitS. Although I discovered Post- Rock's many charms through GYBE!'s debut album, it is nowadays certain that it was actually the beginning of the end in terms of groundbreaking as only Tortoise still innovates, almost two decade after being the instigator.

Report this review (#321679)
Posted Tuesday, November 16, 2010 | Review Permalink
5 stars This is my favorite album of Tortoise's. The bass work is elegant and tight, truly spectacular. There's plenty of beautiful math rock polyrhythmic drumming and mallet playing for those interested in highly technical music but what I appreciate most about this album is its consistency. The first nine tracks hang together really well and create an impenetrable atmosphere that makes for a great record to do just about anything to. Usually I listen to it while I go for walks, but I'll play it at work, while cooking, while relaxing and sometimes while reading. The final track begins with a sample from The Who Sell Out (another favorite of mine..) but soon jumps into a pop-centric groove that ties everything together. Can't recommend this listen enough.
Report this review (#1507914)
Posted Wednesday, January 6, 2016 | Review Permalink
siLLy puPPy
PSIKE, JR/F/Canterbury & Eclectic Teams
3 stars Chicago based TORTOISE were one of the pioneers of the American style of post-rock in the early 90s where they, like others in the breakaway from indie rockers, were interested in experimenting with the hypnotic droning possibilities laid down by the Velvet Underground all the way back in the 60s. While bands like Talk Talk and Slint may have fully nudged the subgenere of rock that utilizes rock instrumentation to create varied timbres and textures outside the confines of traditional rock song structures, bands like Cut de Sac, Labradford, Bowery Electric and TORTOISE are cited as the founders of the American flavored stylistic approach which combined Krautrock with dub, jazz, electronica and minimalism. TORTOISE themselves formed in 1990 when bassist Doug McCombs (from Elventh Dream Day) hooked up with drummer John Herndon and set out to create freelance rhythm sections that took the elements of groove oriented genres such as reggae and add more complex elements.

The results of this experimental approach led to the eponymous debut album by TORTOISE which found a total of five musicians cranking out a plethora of different musical sounds from a veritable army of musical instruments including the usual rock suspects such as bass, guitar and drums alongside vibes, marimba, keyboards, sax, harpsichord and tons of synthesizers and effects. The combo effect of all these sounds delivered in an exclusive instrumental parade of sounds is indeed quite unlike many other artists of the days including other early post-rock bands. While incorporating jazzy elements into the overall hypnotic trajectory of the steady flow of rock led electronically tinged space dub, TORTOISE at this point still hadn't honed their skills to the point of such classics as "Millions Now Living Will Never Die" or my favorite "TNT."

The debut album by TORTOISE is exclusively instrumental and all ten tracks ooze by in the mid-tempo range and in retrospect doesn't come off as anything particularly brilliant since in time TORTOISE themselves would conjure up much more interesting post- rock offerings, but they did garner a lot of attention at the time of this release because of the unusual instrumentation of two bassists, three percussionists and an ample use of vibraphones and marimbas. This album also was released with two album covers, both of which i've somehow accumulated. While both are identical artistically speaking with three dots in three squares on a single colored background, one release shows alternating blue and white coloration while the other is of different shades of tan and brown.

Compared to later efforts, the debut by TORTOISE is a downright lazy affair with a steady groove that never gains very much steam or conjures up a lot of changing it up in the ole dynamics department. While they were successful in garnering the attention they needed in order to create a steady movement beyond the basics, the debut album isn't an album that really stands the test of time as does the following albums. While this is a perfectly satisfying hypnotic groovilistic parade of jazzy dub with Krautrock flavored elements simmering on a low lit pilot light, nothing really erupts into anything memorable either and granted TORTOISE were never known for epic extended jaunts that lead to crescendoes such as Godspeed! You Black Emperor, however they were known for an interesting instrumental interplay that doesn't quite muster up an ecstatic satisfaction level on this one. Not bad by any means but it only gets better from here.

Report this review (#1889915)
Posted Wednesday, February 28, 2018 | Review Permalink
5 stars This album is an alltime classic and a transcendent moment for the US indie music scene. During the ascent of the grunge phenomena, every band looking for a record deal forgot all their chops, put on flannel and made themselves as ugly as possible.

Every band looking to make a mark with their chops went to independent labels like Thrill Jockey. Tortoise and its subsequent albums formed the cornerstone of the Thrill Jockey influence and popularized the template (first laid out by the band Slint, or mayyyybe Talk Talk, in my opinion) for the whole post rock operation. The best post rock in my eyes is ambient music with virtuosic intstrumentalists playing with a rock slant. It can be listened to intently or treated as background noise.

This debut album gets great marks for both and truly is a winner across the board. I equate this album - not musically really - to another prog favorite of mine, Goblin's 1976 Roller. Inspired by the times, deftly pulling out all the stops - short, riveting, intense, and exciting.

Report this review (#2085245)
Posted Tuesday, December 11, 2018 | Review Permalink
Eclectic / Prog Metal / Heavy Prog Team
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.

Report this review (#2120989)
Posted Thursday, January 24, 2019 | Review Permalink

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