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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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  • TNT TNT, 1998

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Buy TORTOISE Music


TNTTNT
Thrill Jockey 1998
Audio CD$10.83
$5.05 (used)
Millions Now Living Will Never DieMillions Now Living Will Never Die
Thrill Jockey 1996
Audio CD$7.48
$3.98 (used)
TortoiseTortoise
Thrill Jockey 2012
Vinyl$75.88
It's All Around You [Vinyl]It's All Around You [Vinyl]
Thrill Jockey 2012
Vinyl$18.04
$16.76 (used)
StandardsStandards
Thrill Jockey 2001
Audio CD$8.77
$0.69 (used)
RemixedRemixed
Import
Thril 1997
Audio CD$49.94
$8.62 (used)
Beacons Of AncestorshipBeacons Of Ancestorship
Thrill Jockey 2009
Audio CD$7.50
$4.76 (used)
Digest Compendium of the Tortoise's WorlDigest Compendium of the Tortoise's Worl
Import
Thril 1996
Audio CD$808.80
$6.60 (used)
A Lazarus Taxon [3-CDs + 1 DVD]A Lazarus Taxon [3-CDs + 1 DVD]
Box set
Thrill Jockey 2006
Audio CD$49.99
$22.97 (used)
Right Now on Ebay (logo)
Tortoise & The Ex - In The Fishtank 5 Vinyl Record LP USD $21.29 Buy It Now 1h
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11h 35m
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? First Fire - First Fire (Tortoise International) Michael Amitin, Andrew Dimino USD $14.99 Buy It Now 3 days
TORTOISE 45 Goosneck Clear vinyl 1993 #G 156 USD $16.00 Buy It Now 3 days
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TORTOISE shows & tickets


  • GZA on 28 Jun 2015

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)

3.36 | 31 ratings
Tortoise
1994
3.72 | 70 ratings
Millions Now Living Will Never Die
1996
3.68 | 70 ratings
TNT
1998
3.46 | 43 ratings
Standards
2001
3.24 | 30 ratings
It's All Around You
2004
2.73 | 12 ratings
Tortoise & Bonnie "Prince" Billy: The Bold And The Brave
2006
3.32 | 26 ratings
Beacons Of Ancestorship
2009

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)

3.00 | 1 ratings
A Digest Compendium Of The Tortoise's World
1996
0.00 | 0 ratings
Remixed
1996
3.34 | 7 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
2.00 | 1 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
 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.

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 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.

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 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.

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 Tortoise & Bonnie Studio Album, 2006
2.73 | 12 ratings

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Tortoise & Bonnie "Prince" Billy: The Bold And The Brave
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.

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 Standards by TORTOISE album cover Studio Album, 2001
3.46 | 43 ratings

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Standards
Tortoise Post Rock/Math rock

Review by siLLy puPPy
Collaborator PSIKE Team

4 stars TORTOISE doesn't believe in stagnation. They have proved from album to album that they are only interested in experimenting in any direction they please. With their fourth album STANDARDS they make avant-garde and experimental rock even weirder and more extreme than previous releases. While they can still be classified as a post-rock act, they have a much looser approach to their music this time around borrowing equally from free form jazz and electronic sound effects all sewn together with a post-production effect. In fact it all kinda makes me think of a trippy electronic band like Coil who delved into the avant-garde jazz world. It is all fairly mellow so don't expect energetic outbursts or anything of the sort.

The music is just weird! It has interesting electronic beats competing with jazzy lounge music and at times the different parts seem to drift off into their own worlds creating a detached sounding wild ride but it usually comes back together somehow. There is a whole random feel to this album as well as it meanders from track to track with little keeping a unifying feel but somehow all being alien enough to make you feel like you are walking through a giant forest of bizarre plant-like creatures on another world where carbon isn't the main bonding element in organic chemistry.

It took many more listens to get into this one as opposed to the albums that came before but it did click with me after I accepted its bizarre charm and adapted to the strangeness that unfolds. TORTOISE prove to me again that they are a unique musical outfit that demands new directions with every move they make and if you have what it takes to keep up with their ambitiousness then you will not be disappointed by this strange concoction of post-rock gone astray.

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 TNT by TORTOISE album cover Studio Album, 1998
3.68 | 70 ratings

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TNT
Tortoise Post Rock/Math rock

Review by siLLy puPPy
Collaborator PSIKE Team

4 stars TORTOISE continues their unique experimental brand of post-rock on their 3rd album TNT which finds a huge grab bag of ideas heaped onto their already eclectic palette. In fact, if someone were to slap on a various artists cover of some sort you might be hard pressed to believe that the 12 compositions on this album are by the same artist. The leading track begins with one of the most "normal" tracks which sounds like a nice airy brand of jazz-fusion. It is a pleasant but unalarming little piece that belies the strangeness that kicks off on the second track "Swing From The Gutters" which introduces an ambient intro followed by an electronic dance groove mixed with some jazz guitar. The third track takes you somewhere else entirely by creating a hypnotic xylophone-like sound that works in a progressive electronic sound.

The entire album is diverse and quite exciting. It is reasonably accessible from the getgo but adds unorthodox elements that make it sound extremely fresh and constantly delivers surprises when you least expect them without being as over-the-top as say the Mr Bungles out there. The track titled "Jetty" is unique as it is the TORTOISE version of a song that was recorded and put onto the album "The Unstable Molecule" by their more jazz-fusion oriented sister band Isotope 217. On that album though is is listed under the French title "La Jetée" which is the name of an experimental film. This is a really cool album that incorporates a plethora of moods. I might have to up my rating in the future as I seem to like this more every time I listen to it but for right now it is a solid 4 star album.

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 Millions Now Living Will Never Die by TORTOISE album cover Studio Album, 1996
3.72 | 70 ratings

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Millions Now Living Will Never Die
Tortoise Post Rock/Math rock

Review by siLLy puPPy
Collaborator PSIKE Team

4 stars Defying classification and making me wonder if these guys are truly post-rock or just eclectic, MILLIONS NOW LIVING WILL NEVER DIE is indeed a magnificent piece of work which catapulted TORTOISE into the consciousness of post-rock lovers and the music world in general. They are truly unique and this 2nd album will leave you wondering what you just heard leaving trails of post-rock, krautrock, electronica, minalmist or jazz. The truth is that they are all of the above only strewn together in a way that is simultaneously pleasant and unexpected.

This album has a heavy bass which is most commonly heard in hip hop but in this context it adds a nice sub-sound that makes your speakers resonate in a most pleasant way. Basically all I can say about this album is that it delivers in a most satisfying way. It takes you somewhere completely unexpected and makes you wonder what you just listened to. Repeated listenings only add a sense of appreciation as they make you admire the mixings of styles that made this particular album come into fruition. I can totally understand why this album is considered one of the cornerstones of post-rock following the footsteps of Talk Talk. Although it seems like it's in a category of its own, it really does progress the post-rock sound by adding a myriad of influences. Highly recommended.

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 Standards by TORTOISE album cover Studio Album, 2001
3.46 | 43 ratings

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Standards
Tortoise Post Rock/Math rock

Review by LinusW
Special Collaborator Italian Prog Specialist

2 stars What starts as a monumental processed drum barrage with twangy, ringing notes on a majestic guitar soon settles down into a more album-typical groove on Standards.

Deftly interlocking rhythmic structures come together in an electronica-infused instrumental clockwork, where buzzy or electronically clean trip-hop-ish percussion snap and pop beneath this well-defined algorithm of simple but countless little melody lines and effects. It's punchy, clinical and occasionally busy or mechanical, but given a certain level of fluidity by removing and adding new parameters in a model only known to the band members themselves.

I would hardly call it properly atmospheric, since all the sounds are so very clearly delineated. There is room for a certain warm and suave lounge ambience to seep into the arrangements, especially during the jazzier bits that represent the other side of the album, but it's more of a slick, cerebral nature than something that touches me emotionally. At time it's a bit more ambiguous and coldly space-like in what it radiates, but still safely kept away from any kind of excess. Disciplined and moderate.

Regardless of all the little chimes, buzzes, twirls and prattle and an objectively rather rich instrumentation, the majority of the compositions feel a bit vacuous, a bit too deflated and sparse, to really live up to the potential. It's the feeling of a vast and pure white canvas with just enough paint to cover it in dots here and there. Decently colourful patterns occasionally emerge, but most of them struggle to convey a proper image. And just as things actually do come together and send some experimental sparks flying, away we glide on a nondescript and airy slippery slope into anonymous jazzy smoothness. But perhaps that slight minimalistic streak, the abstract lightness and fleeting nature of it all is what so speaks to people. To me it's only the busiest arrangements that really work, and they are occasionally a joy to listen to.

Clever, professional, but ultimately disappointing.

2 stars.

//LinusW

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 Beacons Of Ancestorship by TORTOISE album cover Studio Album, 2009
3.32 | 26 ratings

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Beacons Of Ancestorship
Tortoise Post Rock/Math rock

Review by Neu!mann
Prog Reviewer

3 stars After a pair of albums laminated in glossy digital polish the Post Rockers of Tortoise returned to grittier territory in 2009, back-dating their sound with dirty analog synthesizers and unprocessed acoustic drums. The melodic lines are sometimes harsh, and the instrumental textures often abrasive; even the occasional electronic percussion (in "Penumbra", and elsewhere) has an appealing retro New Wave feel, recalling Daniel Miller in his "Warm Leatherette" days.

And yet this is still a highly refined act, whether flirting with groovy industrial techno (in "Monument Six One Thousand") or performing with Punk-like intensity (and here I'll simply direct your attention to track six, instead of trying to type out the full unpronounceable title). As you might have noticed, the band's affection for descriptive non-sequiturs remains intact, but with no lyrics or other context clues it's hard to imagine what sort of cognitive mambo led them to identify the album's opening electro-grunge stomp as "High Class Slim Came Floatin' In".

The music itself is typically oblique, and no easier to describe on the band's sixth album than on their previous five. Just about everyone in the quintet plays bass guitar or percussion (or both), making it one of the more purely rhythmic groups ever assembled, and playful too. Note the guitar throughout the album closer "Charteroak Foundation", played in 3/4 time over drumming in 4/4. None of the music is really developed: the end of any selection is never too far removed from its start, in total resembling a collection of energetic doodles.

Tortoise doesn't really fit inside the Post Rock pigeonhole, sharing none of that movement's usual stylistic conventions: long, loud epiphanies, jangling twin guitars, and so forth. Most of the album's eleven tracks time out at a modest three- to five-minutes, and a few of those ("Northern Something"; "Gigantes") are cut even closer to the bone. Maybe the label stuck because of their obstinate pursuit of an uncommon muse, with no concessions to popular taste or passing trends. The band continues to exist within its own self-contained exoskeletal shell, reason enough to celebrate their return after five years away from the recording studio.

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 Beacons Of Ancestorship by TORTOISE album cover Studio Album, 2009
3.32 | 26 ratings

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Beacons Of Ancestorship
Tortoise Post Rock/Math rock

Review by Zargasheth

4 stars

I haven't heard much by Tortoise at this point in time, but what I have heard has really impressed me. Beacons of Ancestorship, their most recent album, is a highly diverse and interesting album that creates many textured atmospheres. coexisting with harsh guitars and synthesizers in a surprisingly pleasant mixture.

The first track, the 8-minute "High-Class Slim Came Floating In", is actually one of my least favorite tracks. It begins with a sort of irritating high-pitched drone, with the lead being played by a sort of choppy synthesizer part. The drumming on the track, however, is very effective. After a while it suddenly transitions into a heavy repeated pattern that almost sounds like a broken record. This gets monotonous very quickly, and finally a synth ostinato rises out of the repetition...veeeeery slowly. The whole thing feels kind of stretched and hardly develops, making the song a bit boring by the end, when the ostinato just jumbles into oblivion. The whole thing feels unfinished.

After that is "Prepare Your Coffin", which has some more frantic and excellent drumming--occasionally missing and then rescuing crucial beats, to give the whole thing an interesting off-kilter feel-- underneath layered ascending guitar and synth patterns. Yet another layer of complex chords underneath help fill out the sound. The guitar also gets an energetic but brief solo midway through.

After this, the short interlude, "Northern Something", starts out with a light variety of percussion, and then a wobbly synth theme enters, followed by heavier drumming. There isn't much to this track, but it's not very long, either, so that isn't a problem. It is effective as an interlude.

"Gigantes" has a similar layered, complex percussion part, but tops instead with some fascinatingly mathy, interweaving string instruments (which are difficult to identify) and a rather spare theme. But in the middle, this is suddenly replaced by a wailing electric guitar, and then a nice sequence of chord changes on bass and synth. Finally, the lead is replaced by mysterious breathy sounds and ringing synthesizers, playing a mysterious and beautifully atmospheric tune.

Another interlude follows, this one a weird piece of electronica called "Penumbra", containing a simple melody played on sampled-sounding synths with a shifting background. This one is very fun to listen to.

The next piece is a bit of a shocker--the harsh, noisy "Yinxianghechengqi", with a muddy, grumbling bass and synthesizer in the lead and furious drumming. Some times the whole thing is lost in a grinding storm, but one never competely loses track of the exciting melody (what there is of one).

The record calms down a bit after this with the sedate "The Fall of Seven Diamonds Plus One", with a slow, twangy guitar playing a minimal theme alongside similarly minimal percussion, including something sounding like a rattling chain. Again, the themes are very effective, and even though this piece is very slow, it still keeps up enough momentum to avoid collapsing.

"Minors" continues with sounds similar to "High-Class Slim", but playing a more cohesive and connected theme (one of the best on the disc), with interesting rhythmic shenanigans that the punchy drums effortlessly keep pace with. The synthesizers in this song also present more variety than the opener, producing a fuller background.

"Monument Six One Thousand" starts off with a bizarre, experimentally electronic beat pounding underneath meandering guitar, later accompanied by dissonant, repetitive chords.This is significantly weirder than anything else occurring on the album, but it still has a certain charm to it--the beat is interesting, and the guitar melodies are still pleasant in parts, even though they are also more dissonant.

The final "interlude" piece, "De Chelly", starts with a cool chord progression on a synthesizer and a brief melody on top of it. The entire thing is extremely spare, but that progression is amazing--it would be nice to see the band do more with it.

The album is lucky enough to close with its main highlight, "Charteroak Foundation"--the entire piece driven by another strange (but remarkably catchy) chord progression, this time arpeggiated on guitar, forming a 3/4 polyrhythm with the 4/4 drums (whose entrance is startling and impressive.) The piece starts out quiet with a simple theme and builds up to a sweeping set of variations on the undergirding arpeggios, becoming more angular until it suddenly drops back to the synthesizer that started the theme. It's a beautiful piece, and serves as a fitting capstone to the rest of the disc.

Tortoise's main success, well exemplified on this album, is combining bizarrely experimental studio trickery, electronica, and harmonic and rhythmic complexity with genuinely good melodies and nice atmosphere. Highlights include "Gigantes", "Yinxianghechengqi", "Minors", and definitely "Charteroak Foundation".

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