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.
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.