Tortoise, Tortoise

Jeff Chang

By Jeff Chang

on 04.22.11 in Reviews



Emerging in grunge's twilight, Chicago-based post-rock band Tortoise stripped down melodic elements to focus on refined textures and meticulous rhythms. With a distinctive dual bass, vibes and drums format, they literally rebuilt rock from the bottom up, and the swirling studio-savvy sound that resulted provided a way forward for adventurous bands like Mogwai and Radiohead.

Post rock, pre-buzz — dreamy, dubby dynamite.

The band drew its members from veterans of the Northside indie rock scene, and its influences from Jamaican dub, Krautrock, European and American minimalism, Southside's black power free-jazz and underground hip-hop's low-end theory. Their 1994 debut begins with unfocused squall, then settles into ambient structures and funky vamps which allow the band to explore its diverse signposts. The Slint-like opening of "Ry Cooder" gives way to a Sunday afternoon jam that nods equally to Roy Ayers and Sonic Youth. The album's peak, "On Noble," captures a soaring conversation between Bundy Brown and Doug McCombs via bass line. At once cerebral, elegant and grooving, it's a strange album that repays repeat listens.