During the 2 years since the release of Millions Now Living Will Never Die, Tortoise has spent nearly a year writing, recording, and mixing their follow up. Expectations are high. Millions unexpectedly caught some attention (over 70,000 sold?) and changed the way some people approach music. I’ve heard friends say stuff like “Billy’s got a xylophone at his house, so we’re going over there to be Tortoise for the afternoon.”
First of all, you should know that TNT is amazing. The cold, impersonal Germanic post-rock displayed on Djed has been replaced by lush electronic jazz concepts. If you’ve heard the Isotope 217 album on which a few of the Tortoise members played, then you’ve got the idea. Songs transform thematically throughout and then slowly mutate into the next song, making it quite difficult to discern exactly where one song ends and the next begins. Tortoise may find a tight repetitive groove which will convince your head to start nodding, only to quietly dissolve into ambient soundscapes allowing you to go about your day without a care giving you a much needed break before once again embarking on sonic rides propelled by vibraphone.
To realize where Tortoise are heading with this album, note that jazz guitarist Jeff Parker of New Horizons Ensemble, Chicago Underground Orchestra, and Isotope 217 has joined the lineup. And although they may occasionally stumble into a brief free jazz improv jam and allow Parker to influence the general feel of TNT, there are times when the rest of Tortoise revolt and set the drum programmers to work. I’m thinking in particular of a techno trilogy near the end of TNT, which strips the album of any ties to anything organic and delves into a nightmarish computerized hell of drums and bass. Yet, as you tense up and wonder what the hell’s going on, the album once again takes a turn for the better to resolve soothingly. Thrill Jockey Records, Box 476794, Chicago, IL 60647