Friday, May 03, 2013

FDF Volume 4 Issue 302 - Tortoise - TNT

Album - TNT
Artist - Tortoise

Key Players - Dan Bitney – bass, guitar, percussion, vibes, marimba. Doug McCombs – bass, guitar, lap steel. Jeff Parker – guitar, bass John Herndon – drums, vibes, keyboards. John McEntire – drums, synths, harpsichord, keyboards. David Pajo – guitars, bass

Produced By - John McEntire

Release Date – March 10, 1998

What caused me to blow off the dust? - This might be the most well known of all the bands releases. I just sometimes figure for the point of the site I am “obscure” to many, but if I focus on what might be see as one of the bands more widely know releases it may spark conversation.
Overview - This is Chicago based “post rock” band was formed in the early 1990's. The band, who is largely instrumental blend post rock with some jazz and electronica, but fans also see them a progressive rock band. Their blend of instruments and live performances started to get them noticed. Two bass players, a vibe player and stunning musicianship was what was needed to set them apart. This is their 3rd record.

FDF Comments (aka the songs) – Clocking in at over 60 minutes the 12 track disc opens with the album title “TNT”. It starts like a jazz album as McEntire works all over the drum kit. It is not fast, but its methodical and as the guitar begin to come in the layers grown. McEntire starts to push the tempo some as others join in. Parker has a calming effect, but you can feel the tension. The melody fuses back and forth and you'll get a drone from a guitar, before a deeply toned keyboard run rides over the melody. It is a solid album opener, setting the tone to the listener of what is to come. “Swing from the Gutters” follows and finds Parker and Bitney at the start as McEntire slowly gets the drums going. The keyboards offer a haunting feel too. The bass is what drives this, a simple 2-3 note riff that plugs it forward. As the song continues it really blends in to the jazz and progressive realm. Not “proggy” in that “King Crimson” sense, but just very articulate time changes, and tempo. There is a lot to listen to, but its also easy to hear a lot of whats going on. “Ten-Day Interval” is a fun listen as the vibes, marimba and keyboards give a light layer. Has the sound of a track that might open a si-fi film. Minimalistic keyboard, but it has an “air” about it. When the piano comes in you feel a further layer and the bass rings in at times tossing in higher melodic chords. “I Set My Face to the Hillside” has the sounds of children playing in a park before a flamenco sounding guitar plays over it. After a few bars of that the kids remain in the background and the percussion instruments put down a quiet layer. The guitar goes to electric and continues with the keyboard portions. The complexity of the music is prevalent,but it is so simple at times. I keep saying “layers” but there is a lot of cool things going on here. The diversity continues as “A Simple Way to Go Faster” sounds like it could be used in a spy film. The guitars are my favorite part on this, with two of them pulling to and fro with the keyboards and bass. “Than Light that Does Not Work” (yes it is the real title) seems to slow it down. We have the play between the bass and guitars as the drums seem to be a little “busy”, but it keeps sort of a middle of the road pace. “The Suspension Bridge at Iguazu Falls” gets back to the jazz feel, probably due to the heavy marimba presence. They keyboards provide the second layer, but the guitar and drums all seem to look to find their place. Its convoluted, but together at the same time. The ancillary instruments continue to give the ears a lot to pay attention to, always doing something both interesting, but not overly complex. Something about this song, to these ears, have it be the stand out track showcasing everything this album does well. “Four-Day Interval” is a slower, darker sounding track with the slow build of keyboards and vibes repeating the same few notes. Single bass notes are struck as the layers swirl before a second keyboard breaks the melody off elsewhere. The longest titled track (and strangest) come in “In Sarah, Mencken, Christ and Beethoven There Were Women and Men” starts off with sort of a quirky and fun guitar line over an equally as fun keyboard loop. The fun sort of gets old though as the shell doesn't seem to break when it should. There are various other things going on that keep you sidetracked enough though. They get their freak on later with some heavy stop starts keeping you on your toes. The track fades over to “Almost Always is Nearly Enough” and it tends to drift towards a low tempo techno song. The same looping keyboard line and then a second keyboard filled with samples and some electronic manipulation takes place. The track is shorter and cuts quick to “Jetty” a quicker paced song, that still is filled with spastic tempos and various instruments taking a short burst and stepping back. The album concludes with “Everglade” a similar sounding track that keeps you firmly in place.

Where are they Now? - This version of the group is still together. The band is busy with side projects and producing. The last full length from the band was in 2009. They do tour from time to time as well, but mostly at their casual pace. David Pajo, who was involved with the project left shortly after. He has worked as a touring musician in Smashing Pumpkins to Interpol to Yeah Yeah Yeahs. He performs under the moniker Papa M as well.

FDF Personal Comments (aka the Live experience) – I have only seen the band once. July 5, 2007 at the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston. The review I did for my other blog can be found here.

FDF Overall Take – I often think back to the line I heard years ago about an album like this. It read similar to “Not something you'd put on to get the party started, but an album for the hangers on to sit back and enjoy”. It is true here. Its a complex at times record, but its also a fun listen. There is just a lot going on and while it may sit on the background at times, it will reach out. This is one record for sure you could put on and have people ask “who is this” more out of curiosity and not anger. Fly and play this release with pride.


Band page  (Label/ThrillJockey)

Curious? Check out some MUSIC!
TNT  (Studio Version)
TNT  (Live this time)
Ten Day Interval  ( this one if you watch/listen to any)
The Suspension Bridge at Iguazu Falls (live in studio) Stellar also.
You can get it off the Thrill Jockey Link, the band link, or

Disclaimer – I am just a music fan. Feel free to comment about something that may be written incorrectly about the band/members etc. I strive to have a fun and enjoyable site. This site used to post mp3s but ran in to many issues. The audio clips provided are usually from YouTube. No copy write infringement is intended. Please alert me if something should be pulled. Finally, support the artist featured, or your favorite artist by purchasing their music, seeing their shows if possible and saying hi. They need your support.


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