Tortoise, Millions Now Living Will Never Die (1996)

Tortoise, 'Millions Now Living Will Never Die' (1996)Tortoise is a multi-piece instrumental outfit from Chicago who first formed in the early 1990s. They bear affinities to 70s progressive rock and other fusion-based groups, although their sound is quite original and ultimately hard to classify.

Millions is the group's second studio album, following a self-titled debut from a couple of years before. It is one of those discs I've found myself returning to again and again, both as an ambient soundtrack for writing or other activities as well as a densely-packed, sonically-rich record that rewards careful attention, often revealing something new with each listen.

Side One is entirely taken up by the 21-minute long "Djed," a tremendous, multipart triumph of aural architecture.

The track begins with a kind of rhythmic rumbling soon shadowed by a lurking bass line, the combination providing a kind of ominous feel to the proceedings. Soon the sounds resolve into a kind of medium-tempo electronic groove that is very cinematic-seeming, like we're moving through the opening credits of a low-budget indie offering the plot of which will likely be hard to predict.

That initial Krautrock-like section pulses along for several minutes, with various elements -- guitar, bass, electric piano, percussion, samples -- fading in and out of prominence before finally resolving into a single helicopter-blade-like sound on top of which the ensemble then proceeds to construct a Steve Reich-like minimalist fortress that occupies us for the next few minutes.

Then, about two-thirds of the way through the track, there occurs what sounds like a tape malfunction -- in fact a clever segue to the next section. (I'll admit the first time I heard this album was on a cassette, and I was convinced the machine really had eaten the tape!) A couple of quiet minutes of driving head-bopping follows, ultimately fading into a leisurely-paced coda that faintly recalls the opening.

Side Two begins with "Glass Museum," a triptych (slow-fast-slow) that seems more modest than it really is after "Djed." For me, that track's opening and closing tend to evoke a similar feeling to Zappa's "Watermelon in Easter Hay," a soothing sound that almost always instantly puts me in a pleasant mood.

Next comes "A Survey," a brief bit of muffled-sounding brooding that serves mostly as a transition to the next track. "The Taut and Tame" begins and ends as an energetic, percussion-driven sonic workout with a short, less frantic detour in between.

"Dear Grandma and Grandpa" follows, probably the least song-like track on the record, consisting mainly of samples and echoing signal-like noises. That one leads into the album's closer, "Along the Banks of Rivers," another quiet, contemplative composition that perhaps recalls some mid-period Pink Floyd experiments.

While other Tortoise discs are also worthwhile -- especially 1998's TNT and 2009's Beacons of Ancestorship -- Millions has always stood out for me as a special disc that perfectly exploits the old LP format, with the multipart "Djed" unifying the first side, and the five tracks on Side Two together providing another suite-like series serving as a neat complement to "Djed."

No comments:

Post a Comment