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TORTOISE

Post Rock/Math rock • United States


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Tortoise biography
Chicago-based Tortoise have been around since the early 90s. The nucleus of the band is John Herndon, John McEntire, Dan Bitney and Doug McCombs, essentially a double rhythm section although all four are accomplished multi instrumentalists. The band play intricate, highly structured instrumental music that is based around mallet percussion, basses, drums, guitar and keyboards, with extensive use of synthesisers and studio effects.

Their recording career took off in 1994 with the release of their debut album, which was recorded as a 5 piece with Bundy K Brown. The album was well received, but shortly afterwards founder member Brown left and was replaced by former Slint musician Dave Pajo. This line up made the excellent Millions Now Living Will Never Die, the first half of which is a remarkable 21 minute piece called Djed. The band expanded to a 6 piece with guitarist Jeff Parker for their next album, TNT. This third album was recorded over 10 months in a computer equipped studio, and is a dazzling 65 minute collection that is full of hidden nuances and subtlelties. Following this album Pajo left to work on his solo career, and the remaining 5 piece has since made 2 albums, Standards and It's All Around You. All the musicians are also involved in other projects, notably Isotope 217, The Sea and Cake, Chicago Underground and Brokeback. John McEntire has acted as the band's in-house producer, and has also produced acts as diverse as Stereolab (whose Dots and Loops album was partly a collaborative effort with Tortoise) and Wilco, among many others.

Although generally classified as post rock, the music of Tortoise is hard to pin down. They don't play the kind of lengthy drones with enormous crescendoes favoured by bands like Godspeed You! Black Emperor and Explosions In The Sky, but generally favour shorter, rhythmically complex pieces. Some critics have detected a jazz influence, perhaps because of their extensive use of vibes, but there is little room for improvisation in their music and their painstaking studio work is at odds with normal jazz practice. There is a strong influence of minimalist composers like Steve Reich, Philip Glass and Terry Riley discernible throughout their work, and it is this coupled with the core member's background in the hardcore/alternative scene which probably comes closest to summing their music up.

- Chris Gleeson (Syzygy)

Tortoise official website

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Buy TORTOISE Music


A Lazarus Taxon [3-CDs + 1 DVD]A Lazarus Taxon [3-CDs + 1 DVD]
Box set
Thrill Jockey 2006
Audio CD$93.99
$10.00 (used)
StandardsStandards
Thrill Jockey 2016
Audio CD$7.08
$1.99 (used)
Millions Now Living Will Never DieMillions Now Living Will Never Die
Thrill Jockey 2016
Vinyl$16.34
$18.20 (used)
TNTTNT
Thrill Jockey 1998
Audio CD$7.65
$5.94 (used)
The CatastrophistThe Catastrophist
Thrill Jockey 2016
Audio CD$8.73
$12.13 (used)
It's All Around YouIt's All Around You
Thrill Jockey 2004
Audio CD$6.99
$1.81 (used)
TortoiseTortoise
Thrill Jockey 2016
Vinyl$16.41
Beacons Of AncestorshipBeacons Of Ancestorship
Thrill Jockey 2009
Audio CD$9.52
$2.43 (used)
Tortoise: TNT Vinyl 2LPTortoise: TNT Vinyl 2LP
Thrill Jockey
Vinyl$25.95
$17.00 (used)
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TORTOISE discography


Ordered by release date | Showing ratings (top albums) | Help Progarchives.com to complete the discography and add albums

TORTOISE top albums (CD, LP, MC, SACD, DVD-A, Digital Media Download)

3.50 | 35 ratings
Tortoise
1994
3.73 | 77 ratings
Millions Now Living Will Never Die
1996
3.68 | 76 ratings
TNT
1998
3.37 | 46 ratings
Standards
2001
3.22 | 34 ratings
It's All Around You
2004
2.77 | 13 ratings
Tortoise & Bonnie "Prince" Billy: The Brave and the Bold
2006
3.33 | 29 ratings
Beacons Of Ancestorship
2009
3.84 | 35 ratings
The Catastrophist
2016

TORTOISE Live Albums (CD, LP, MC, SACD, DVD-A, Digital Media Download)

TORTOISE Videos (DVD, Blu-ray, VHS etc)

TORTOISE Boxset & Compilations (CD, LP, MC, SACD, DVD-A, Digital Media Download)

4.00 | 2 ratings
A Digest Compendium Of The Tortoise's World
1996
5.00 | 1 ratings
Remixed
1996
3.43 | 9 ratings
A Lazarus Taxon
2006

TORTOISE Official Singles, EPs, Fan Club & Promo (CD, EP/LP, MC, Digital Media Download)

0.00 | 0 ratings
Lonesome Sound
1993
0.00 | 0 ratings
Mosquito
1993
5.00 | 1 ratings
Gamera / Cliff Dweller Society
1995
0.00 | 0 ratings
Why We Fight
1995
3.00 | 1 ratings
Rhythms, Resolutions & Clusters
1995
0.00 | 0 ratings
Music For Workgroups
1996
0.00 | 0 ratings
Rivers
1996
0.00 | 0 ratings
Djed / Tjed
1996
0.00 | 0 ratings
The Taut And The Tame / Find The One
1996
0.00 | 0 ratings
Yaus / Speedy Car
1996
2.00 | 1 ratings
Derrick Carter Vs. Tortoise
1998
0.00 | 0 ratings
Tour 1998
1998
0.00 | 0 ratings
Adverse Camber / To Day Retreival
1998
2.91 | 3 ratings
In The Fishtank
1999
1.10 | 2 ratings
Gently Cupping The Chin Of The Ape
2001
0.00 | 0 ratings
Why Waste Time?
2010

TORTOISE Reviews


Showing last 10 reviews only
 The Catastrophist by TORTOISE album cover Studio Album, 2016
3.84 | 35 ratings

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The Catastrophist
Tortoise Post Rock/Math rock

Review by Neu!mann
Prog Reviewer

4 stars After more than twenty years the music of Tortoise is still incredibly hard to pin down. So I turn to guitarist Jeff Parker for an insider's description of the band's eighth and arguably best studio album, which he calls "progressive experimental music with pop sensibilities". You won't find a more succinct analysis of the elusive Tortoise sound than that, and it's almost true.

Some of the material here was first aired in embryonic form as part of a 2010 Chicago commission to celebrate the Windy City's musical heritage. But the much later album far exceeded that original mandate, becoming the band's widest ranging and richest effort to date.

The title track kicks off with some of the nerdiest analog synthesizers heard in forty years: a perfect audio illustration of the album's unfortunate (but eye-catching) cover portrait. After that the stage expands far beyond the shores of Lake Michigan to embrace, and then surpass, all the usual Tortoise detours: lush post-modern grooves; eclectic after-hours lounge bop; jagged ethno-funk with a touch of Krautrock grunge. And, in "Yonder Blue", unexplored territory for this otherwise strictly instrumental group: a truly romantic pop song.

Robert Wyatt was invited (but declined) to be the guest vocalist, which should be a clue to the style of the music. The job eventually went to Yo La Tengo's Georgia Hubley, to these ears a better fit for such an unexpected change of pace.

And then there's the album's other happy surprise: a left-field interpretation of the 1973 David Essex chart-topper "Rock On". The new version presents a suitably reptilian Tortoise re-imagining of an already oddball novelty hit, miles ahead of the similar but less effective avant-pop covers heard on the 2006 album "The Brave and the Bold" (quod vide, but not a true Tortoise recording).

Even their best fans (let's see a show of hands) would have to admit the music of Tortoise can sometimes resemble academic exercises in Post Rock engineering. But the band has never sounded more relaxed, or been so focused. After two decades of unqualified cult success, is it fair to say the Tortoise quintet has finally emerged from its collective shell?

 The Catastrophist by TORTOISE album cover Studio Album, 2016
3.84 | 35 ratings

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The Catastrophist
Tortoise Post Rock/Math rock

Review by zravkapt
Special Collaborator Post/Math Rock Team

4 stars In 2010 the city of Chicago commissioned the members of Tortoise to compose a suite of music honoring the city's jazz and improv community. Some of the music on The Catastrophist originated in embryonic form during that time. However, those ideas were expanded upon for the finished product. Other songs originated from sessions for previous albums while two new songs feature vocals. Unusual for this band but not unheard of; their first single from 1993 had vocals and lyrics, and they had a song on their 2004 album which featured a cut-up wordless guest female vocal. This album is a curious mix of Tortoise by numbers and Tortoise trying to do new things. Their first album since 2009, the multi-instrumentalist members have been busy doing other things since but saved their "that sounds like Tortoise" bits for this album.

There are only two bands that could have made the title track: Tortoise or a band trying to sound like Tortoise. Classic mid-paced Tortoise with a nice melodic twist at the end. "Ox Duke" is more classic Tortoise that would have fit on the TNT album. Another surprise towards the end when everything gets more minimalistic and cinematic sounding. One of the vocal songs here is a cover of the 1973 'one-hit wonder' "Rock On" by David Essex. For a pop hit from 1973, the original was already weird. The version here is more stripped back but also more spacey sounding, the double bass reminding one of early Tortoise. Todd Ritman of noise rock band U.S. Maple does the vocals. This sort of has a similar vibe to the covers album they did back in 2006 with Bonnie 'Prince' Billy.

"Shake Hands With Danger" is a highlight. This one does not sound era-specific. A simple steady beat throughout but it's what is going on over top that is interesting. Nice guitar tone and melodies here. "Gesceap" was the first song previewed from the album and it's not surprising therefore it's also one of the highlights. Certainly the most energenic song here. Starts out hypnotic and electronic but drums and guitar show up while the synths get less hypnotic and more melodic. The drumming and distorted bass create a tense atmosphere over halfway. "Hot Coffee" originated as an idea during the It's All Around You sessions. Possibly the funkiest thing Tortoise ever did. Another highlight which doesn't sound specific to any era or album.

"Yonder Blue" is the other vocal song. Featuring the vocals and lyrics of Georgia Hubley from indie legends Yo La Tenga. Musically this sounds very un-Tortoise. Easy going and ballad like, the song itself is alright but the production sounds too demo-like in my opinion. "Tesseract" is the jazziest piece on the album. Another standout but could have fit on any of the band's post-TNT albums. I have to admit that every time I listen to The Catastrophist I enjoy it more and more, it's a grower. The vocal tracks don't really reward many repeated listens but the best instrumental tracks show how textured they are. Not the best Tortoise album but neither the worst. Fans of Jaga Jazzists last album may like this. I'll give this 4 stars.

 The Catastrophist by TORTOISE album cover Studio Album, 2016
3.84 | 35 ratings

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The Catastrophist
Tortoise Post Rock/Math rock

Review by LearsFool
Collaborator Post/Math Rock Team

5 stars It is fair to say that Tortoise are legends in the post rock canon. While surprisingly left in the dust by many in the critical "cognoscenti", especially when the time comes to make that Best of The '90's list, they've made four of the most commanding classics of their genre. From standard post soundscapes that incorporated IDM to beating Do May Say Think at their own energetic game, they tore through musical history before missteping with 2004's "It's All Around You", and after a surprisingly poor collaboration with the similarly legendary Bonnie "Prince" Billy just about got back on their feet with 2009's "Beacons of Ancestorship", though this wasn't a proper return to form, and they fell silent in the studio for seven years.

So they needed a comeback, and did they ever make one. This forgets about the last fifteen years of their career and picks up where "Standards" left off, and so this record is fast paced, tight, and lightly experimental. For the first time they've added vocals to some of their tracks, most notably their surprise cover of David Essex's "Rock On", and do so to unique and strong effect. As well, they've brought back their electronic side, now subbing out smooth IDM in favour of bedroom indietronica, wonderfully complementing their energetic rock. Otherwise, this is an album that would be familiar to people who've dug both "Millions Now Living Will Never Die" and "TNT", one that they'd likely agree with me deserves five stars, and not for necessarily pushing boundaries but for being a solid, fresh, and wonderful listen from a band we came to love for always trying something a little new. Welcome back, Tortoise.

 Tortoise by TORTOISE album cover Studio Album, 1994
3.50 | 35 ratings

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Tortoise
Tortoise Post Rock/Math rock

Review by liontime

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.
 It's All Around You by TORTOISE album cover Studio Album, 2004
3.22 | 34 ratings

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It's All Around You
Tortoise Post Rock/Math rock

Review by TCat
Prog Reviewer

3 stars This Tortoise album is a decent enough sounding release, but it is not one of their best. The overall feeling of this album is experimentation in soft, lounge-sounding jazz, with some nice mellow harmonies and instrumentals for the most part. The sound effects are sparse through the album and there is a rather spare used of distortion and real experimentation, which is what Tortoise is best at. However, when there is a lapse into noise, distortion and experimentation, it is very noticeable, probably because of the soft jazz sound of the majority of the album. These places where the band does get more avant garde and experimental are the best parts however, and that just doesn't happen enough to make it a favorite of mine.

It feels too much like a "safe" album, as if they were trying to make the most perfect album and most accessible music they could and that ends up making it too plain. The vibes which are used extensively through the album are very nice though.

The best tracks here are definitely 5-star prog compositions and stand out the most, namely "Crest" for it's sense of adventure and the distortion that disrupts the piece in the middle, "Dot/Eye" is more of a funky upbeat track with increasing experimentation as the track continues and more of a Math Rock feel to it, and "Salt the Skies" for an almost satirical take on the album which starts out safe enough and then continues to build and increase tension through distortion and noise before slacking off again. These are great tracks, but don't do enough to hold the album up to a 4 or 5 star affair.

Tortoise is a great band that deserves more credit for helping to establish the Post/Math Rock sound and expanding it, but this album is probably not the best example of this as they explore the softer side of their music, and venturing into the lounge aspect of the music. I just like the experimental side of the band more. 3 stars.

 In The Fishtank by TORTOISE album cover Singles/EPs/Fan Club/Promo, 1999
2.91 | 3 ratings

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In The Fishtank
Tortoise Post Rock/Math rock

Review by TCat
Prog Reviewer

3 stars This In the Fishtank EP is quite a bizarre pairing of the noise band The Ex with the excellent jazz/post- rock band Tortoise. I love the experimental fusion stylings of Tortoise, but I am not that familiar with The Ex because their music doesn't always appeal to me. This combination seems to mellow out the noisy music of The Ex, but also adds some strange elements to Tortoise's music, sometimes for the good like on the opening track "The Lawn of the Lamb" and on "Did You Comb?" which is a satirical percussion heavy track. I really think this music ventures more into the avant-prog territory than anything, especially with The Ex influenced "Central Heating" which is very noisy, but underplayed with a ambient sounding instrument that sounds like an accordion (?), and the mixing in this track is amazing that the ambient sound doesn't get buried in the noise. It's a hard track to listen to, yet it is quite a marvel that the production worked out the way it did.

As far as the rest of the EP, "Pooh Song" is definitely an interesting avant garde song, but it would have been better with either a different vocalist, or no vocals at all. The last track is the most interesting of the bunch, with no real melody, but a lot of orchestrated noises/sounds, that actually has direction.

The biggest complaint on this EP is that the 6 songs are not developed as well as they could have been. Part of the reason for that is that it only took 48 hours to record this EP, maybe the union would have been better if they took more time to flesh things out. The Ex's lead vocalist has a very sarcastic sounding voice which is quite abrasive, and that doesn't mix well with Tortoise's usually meticulous sounds. The album would have been better without vocals, I believe.

So this one is interesting enough, and actually works on most of the tracks. I think avant-garde prog lovers would definitely be interested in this one, and it may open your interest in Tortoise's music. I do like the avant garde genre when the music is done well, but there isn't enough development here in these tracks to call it an excellent EP. However, I can't really call it a poor effort either. It definitely isn't for everyone. But I can at least pull 3 stars out of the hat for this one because of the ingenuity.

 Gently Cupping The Chin Of The Ape by TORTOISE album cover Singles/EPs/Fan Club/Promo, 2001
1.10 | 2 ratings

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Gently Cupping The Chin Of The Ape
Tortoise Post Rock/Math rock

Review by TCat
Prog Reviewer

1 stars This single contains two otherwise previously unavailable tracks and 3 videos. The first track "Waihopai" is very interesting and a great track of electronica and rhythm, slightly abstract and a nice sound. The 2nd track is "Peering" and the melody sounds too much like video game music that plays over a synth base and percussion and more synthesizer. Not very interesting. The videos are there also, and includes some live performances and studio videos, but I only review for the music. You can get both of these music tracks on "The Lazarus Taxon" which is a compilation and if you're curious about these two tracks, then you are better off getting them that way, which makes this pretty much obsolete. This one is only for completionists.
 Gamera / Cliff Dweller Society by TORTOISE album cover Singles/EPs/Fan Club/Promo, 1995
5.00 | 1 ratings

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Gamera / Cliff Dweller Society
Tortoise Post Rock/Math rock

Review by TCat
Prog Reviewer

— First review of this album —
5 stars This is a 2 track single that lasts almost an entire half hour. This is an example of Tortoise at their inventive and experimental best. It is an example of their greatest work and is a good way for most listeners to test the waters to see if this style of post-rock is for them or not. Tortoise utilizes experimental composition, some jazz elements and explore the sub genre in ways that other bands don't. I really look up to their brand of inventiveness that stretches the boundaries of post and math rock.

"Gamera" is over 13 minutes long and starts out as a very pleasant acoustic song that establishes the main thematic element which the band will eventually start to build upon. The music continues to build as is typical of post rock. The thing that is different here is that there is no wall of noise established and no real climax as what is typical of a lot of post rock. Instead, they take a math- rock approach and continue to explore the themes. There is a very wise use of dynamism here to keep the music from wearing itself out. As the song comes to about 2 minutes before the ending, the music fades out completely and you have enough time to wonder why there is all this silence, when it fades back in with a strange reverb sound that give the impression that something has gone terribly wrong with this song and some things have been reversed while other elements have interfered with the entire theme, and while some the song seems to try to regain control, it only makes things worse until the music loses it's way and gives in to spoken word. This is a track that has to be listened to several times to understand just how complex it is while on the surface it seems so simplistic.

"Cliff Dweller Society" is a 15 minute epic and while the previous track explored a theme, this one just moves from one element to another throughout it's length, but as it does this, it keeps some semblance of unity. There is a lot of jazz usage in this track that wasn't so apparent in the last one. I heard it said that this track is a lot like moving around on a radio dial on a spaceship and this is a good way to explain the music here. It does start off as a concise piece but as it continues, it jumps from one station to another as if someone is searching for something but is not quite finding it. The use of electronics is done tastefully as loops come and go, rhythms glide in and out and even a brass section gets involved in this. Even though this may seem chaotic, on the contrary it is very smooth, not ambient, but jazzy with touches of dissonance appearing and disappearing. Great stuff.

This is music that transcends any formula that post rock listeners might be used to. It is definitely thinking music, it can be used as background because it is somewhat light, but it is so complex that it demands to be listened to. This is a great way to enter the world of Tortoise, but remember that their music is so varied, that this is only a small sample as to what the band offers. Great music, only available as bonus tracks in other countries, so if you can find this one, by all means, pick it up and get ready for some great experimental progressive jazz unlike anything else. Yes it is a single but, damn, I still gotta give it 5 stars.

 Derrick Carter Vs. Tortoise by TORTOISE album cover Singles/EPs/Fan Club/Promo, 1998
2.00 | 1 ratings

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Derrick Carter Vs. Tortoise
Tortoise Post Rock/Math rock

Review by TCat
Prog Reviewer

— First review of this album —
2 stars This is simply a 12" single of two remixes of the Tortoise track "In Sarah, Mencken, Christ and Beethoven There Were Women and Men" from their album TNT. The remixes are done by Derrick Carter who is a house producer and DJ in Chicago, Illinois. The first track runs over 9 minutes and is called the Crazy Dub while the 2nd side is a little over 5 minutes and is an outtake. I have to say that the outtake is actually the most interesting of the two in that it retains a little more of the original track, but in both cases, the track is stripped down quite a bit and it is all very repetitive. I would, as a Tortoise fan and a lover of progressive music, steer away from this one unless you like techno and house music. Not much to get excited over here, but the production is good so I wouldn't necessarily call it poor. Two stars.
 Tortoise & Bonnie Studio Album, 2006
2.77 | 13 ratings

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Tortoise & Bonnie "Prince" Billy: The Brave and the Bold
Tortoise Post Rock/Math rock

Review by TCat
Prog Reviewer

3 stars Tortoise....music on the cutting edge of instrumental post rock...except for this album. Will Oldham joins Tortoise on every one of these songs making them very experimental for him, but sort of normal fare for Tortoise, except for the fact that the singing takes the limelight and pushes Tortoise instrumental beauty and ingenuity to the background. This album is still quite avant garde, but the songs individually don't always quite work very well. There is really good and really bad here, leaving an album that is inconsistent. Now, I love variety, I don't like albums that stay safe and full of same- ness, but when the odd songs don't work very well, then I find that inconsistent. Songs 1, 2, 3, 8, 9, 10 work quite well and tend to lean towards an artsy indie-folkish sound which I like, but, except for track 3, are lacking in progressive elements. Songs 4, 5, 6, 7 are not very well arranged and seem convoluted and drag down the middle section of the album. I could forgive this not being a completely progressive album if the most progressive songs on here were not done so horribly wrong. But, there are a lot of other excellent Tortoise albums out there to make up for this, thank the Great Turtle God. I have to give this a 3 star rating because there are enough good songs to make it listenable, but there is too much waste on here to make it an excellent addition to a prog rock collection.
Thanks to useful_idiot for the artist addition. and to NotAProghead for the last updates

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