#1300 Tortoise – Millions Now Living Will Never Die

This is the CD nestling next door but one from the previous randometer pick, Ms Torrini, but is about as far as you can get in contrast sound wise. Like many of my CDs it has been stored in boxes and hidden on shelves for a long time and playing it for this review was almost like hearing it again for the first time. It took me several listens (3 or 4) before I felt able to fully unpick it. But hearing is live, fully immersed in the sound, would be the best way to appreciate it.

Tortoise are one of the key proponents of ‘post-rock’, one of those genre names that in itself means absolutely nothing, but is commonly used to describe popular music bands playing electronic instruments in a mix of styles – a bit of jazz, bit of Krautrock, bit of heavy drone minimalist swathes of sound etc etc. This is essentially ‘progressive rock’, which at least does mean something as a genre title, but is too associated with a particular era and sound.

This album, Tortoise’s 2nd, includes all of those elements, and in their first track Djed, manages it all in the same piece. These aren’t ‘songs’, there’s no singing involved. The band are instrumentalists, like Godspeed You! Black Emperor and Explosions in the Sky, and I first discovered them around the turn of the century after the revelation that was Lift Your Skinny Fists Like Antennas To Heaven. Tortoise, however, were clearly ahead of the pack, as this dates from 1996, and is considered a pivotal ‘post-rock’ work.

Djed is over 20 mins long and starts off with a driving Krautrock-like 4 to the floor motorik beat. About halfway in the mood changes, and after some scratchy electronics, we have a minimalist repetitive percussion section heavily influenced by Steve Reich.

But its not all American drone-rock, there’s some lovely grungy bass at the beginning of A Survey, with cicadas chirping in the background. The Taut And Tame complements that with some seriously funky drumming. But my favourite, partly because it’s a shorter, more easily accessible listening experience, and partly because it perfectly conveys that feeling of saudade is the jazz-inflected closing track, Along The Banks Of Rivers.

Best Bits: Along The Banks Of Rivers
Genre: Post-Rock (whatever that means)
Like This, Try This: Try playing this album to your own tortoise, particularly the track Dear Grandma and Grandpa and record its reaction. It could be the next post-rock breakthrough.

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