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Standards
     

Standards

by Tortoise
 

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For their fourth full-length album, Tortoise add a much-needed dose of grime and grit to their instrumental stylings. The Chicago instrumental ensemble have always been adept at both the technical and technological aspects of music making, but the results have at times seemed like fussy, studio-as-laboratory experiments. Standards is full of elements familiar

Overview

For their fourth full-length album, Tortoise add a much-needed dose of grime and grit to their instrumental stylings. The Chicago instrumental ensemble have always been adept at both the technical and technological aspects of music making, but the results have at times seemed like fussy, studio-as-laboratory experiments. Standards is full of elements familiar from previous records -- the prominent use of vibes, the interplay between acoustic and electronic rhythms -- but they've dispensed with the extraneous horns and strings that complicated 1998's TNT, the better to focus on the strengths of the core quintet. A purposely "dirty" recording of Sonic Youth-style crescendos announces the opening "Seneca" before it settles down to a burbling Krautrock throb; several other cuts contain louder guitar and more groove-disrupting noise elements than usual. Drummer/producer John McEntire's mix-mastery is still much in evidence in the choppy layering of "Monica" and "Eden 1," but the album's best moments are its most direct: the memorable, unifying melodies of "Sixpack" and "Speakeasy" and the energetic "Benway," with its tricky, live-sounding band interplay and atonal organ mashes. Tortoise still play fast and loose with their audience's expectations -- the disc's index numbers don't always match the actual track endings, and the hard-to-decipher liner notes are the linguistic equivalent of a drum-'n'-bass remix -- but their music is no shell game.

Editorial Reviews

All Music Guide - John Bush
Revered for their ineffably clean, precise playing, Tortoise couldn't help but mess with the formula slightly on their fourth album, Standards. And from the beginning of the first track it sounds like a major overhaul, with heavily over-miced drums and distorted guitars framing a pummeling groove from bassist Doug McCombs. On the second track "Eros," the phlegmatic synthesizer lines and clipped drums are more reminiscent of experimental electronica outfit Mouse on Mars than any fellow post-rock luminaries. When the band finally hits its stride, though, midway through the third track, "Benway," it's with a quintessential Tortoise groove, driven by repetitive bass figures and a vibraphone melody (plus a hilarious nod to prog-rock at the end, with several seconds of stop-start playing). Standards does return the group to the green fields of their last record, but only occasionally; John McEntire and company appear too restless to consider making the same album twice. Ironically, despite the range of sounds, Tortoise is still doing what they've been doing for nearly a decade: playing some of the most empathic, group-minded rock of their era, then indulging in much recomposition courtesy of the mixing desk and various effects. "Monica" is one of the least Tortoise-sounding tracks the group has ever recorded; it sounds like an early-'80s pop/R&B track (complete with talkbox guitar) filtered through the lens of British IDM, but then mutates into an intriguing stereo-separation drum workout. Overall, Standards has a few detours for fans conscious of any band's "progression," but plenty of interesting songs and great musicianship for less vested listeners. Though it doesn't develop the evocative or impressionistic side of Tortoise (as heard on TNT), the band is certainly as inventive as ever.

Product Details

Release Date:
02/20/2001
Label:
Thrill Jockey
UPC:
0036172878925
catalogNumber:
89
Rank:
107707

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