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Tortoise Tortoise album cover
3.71 | 54 ratings | 9 reviews | 17% 5 stars

Excellent addition to any
prog rock music collection

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Studio Album, released in 1994

Songs / Tracks Listing

1. Magnet Pulls Through (4:38)
2. Night Air (3:51)
3. Ry Cooder (7:07)
4. Onions Wrapped in Rubber (6:41)
5. Tin Cans & Twine (4:24)
6. Spiderwebbed (8:34)
7. His Second Story Island (2:42)
8. On Noble (4:10)
9. Flyrod (3:29)
10. Cornpone Brunch (4:45)

Total Time: 50:21

Line-up / Musicians

- Dan Bitney / bass, guitar, percussion, vibes, marimba, keyboards, baritone saxophone
- John McEntire / drums, modular synthesizer, ring modulator guitar, electric harpsichord, keyboards
- John Herndon / drums, vibes, keyboards, sequencing
- Doug McCombs / bass, bass 6, guitar, lap steel
- Bundy K. Brown / bass guitar

Releases information

CD Thrill Jockey thrill 013 (1994 US)
LP Thrill Jockey thrill 013 (1994 US)
CD Tokuma Japan Communications TKCB-72227 (2001 Japan)
CD Thrill Jockey, Headz thrill-jp 018, HEADZ 39 (2004 Japan)
LP Thrill Jockey thrill 013 (2012 US) (remaster)

Thanks to syzygy for the addition
and to The Bearded Bard for the last updates
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Buy TORTOISE Tortoise Music

TORTOISE Tortoise ratings distribution

(54 ratings)
Essential: a masterpiece of progressive rock music(17%)
Excellent addition to any prog rock music collection(37%)
Good, but non-essential (33%)
Collectors/fans only (11%)
Poor. Only for completionists (2%)

TORTOISE Tortoise reviews

Showing all collaborators reviews and last reviews preview | Show all reviews/ratings

Collaborators/Experts Reviews

Review by Neu!mann
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.

Review by UMUR
SPECIAL COLLABORATOR Honorary Collaborator
3 stars "Tortoise" is the self-eponymously titled debut full-length studio album by US post-rock act Tortoise. The album was released through Thrill Jockey in June 1994. Tortoise formed in Chicago, Illinois in 1990 and is a predominantly instrumental unit (although on occasion the band have produced songs featuring vocals, which is also the case on this release).

The music is based on a strong rhythm section with two drummers and three bassists, which is quite the unusual core band constellation. Most tracks feature a very stripped down sound. The use of vibraphones/marimba on a song like "Ry Cooder" provides the music with a slight jazzy touch, but most tracks have repetitive groove based rythms and only little melodic content. The album also features a couple of more ambient/atmospheric tracks in "Onions Wrapped In Rubber" and "His Second Story Island".

The album features a pleasant, organic, and detailed sound production, which suits the material perfectly. There´s a dusty feel to the bass/guitars on the album and a nice dry tone to the drums, which makes this a great sonic experience. A 3 - 3.5 star (65%) rating is warranted.

Review by Sean Trane
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.

Review by siLLy puPPy
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.

Review by TCat
SPECIAL COLLABORATOR Honorary Collaborator / Retired Admin
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.

Latest members reviews

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 thei ... (read more)

Report this review (#2085245) | Posted by WFV | Tuesday, December 11, 2018 | Review Permanlink

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 ... (read more)

Report this review (#1507914) | Posted by liontime | Wednesday, January 6, 2016 | Review Permanlink

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 techni ... (read more)

Report this review (#278581) | Posted by Neurotarkus | Monday, April 19, 2010 | Review Permanlink

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 ... (read more)

Report this review (#110325) | Posted by | Thursday, February 1, 2007 | Review Permanlink

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