US - Illinois - Full Moon 123 - 10/07/06
A Lazarus Taxon
This deluxe 3 CD + DVD release from Tortoise collects together their out-of-print Rhythms, Resolutions and Clusters remix album from 1994, bonus tracks from overseas imports, other random tracks, and some videos and live footage from throughout this hugely influential band's history.
While I cannot go so far as to say that this is an essential buy, there is still just enough here of interest for the Tortoise fan, scattered across the discs. Just. The best bits are the live footage from 1996, with a Dave Pajo-era Tortoise playing "Glass Museum", "Gamera" and "Djed" in grainy black and white; the Rhythms, Resolutions and Clusters CD, which works nicely as a whole; and a handful of other good tracks, the best of which could probably fit onto one CD rather than two.
The downside? You have to wade through some pretty irritating tracks to get to the good stuff. Who the hell wants to hear a Nobakazu Takemura remix? Or an Autechre remix? Not me. Part of the reason I like Tortoise so much is that they've always been meticulous with the arrangement and sequencing of their releases. This odds 'n' sods style of release doesn't really suit their music very well, and once you start dissecting what it is about Tortoise that makes their music so unique, it loses its magical allure.
So, when you describe what it is about Tortoise that makes them great, for the most part you won't find it in this boxed set. It just doesn't feel like much care went into this collection. For example, why include the whole of a track like "Cliff Dweller Society" when the best of it is a live recording of a jam that could easily stand on its own? Why bother collecting stuff together just for the sake of completism? I don't dig it.
And that's the key to Tortoise's best music: as well as being incredibly satisfying on many levels for the listener, their best music sounds like the band are having fun too. In the footage from 1996 you can see Dan Bitney spanking a djembe with glee, a hugh shit-eating grin on his face. In fact, Dan Bitney appears to be the life and soul of Tortoise in these videos. He's the one with a smile that says, "I can't believe I'm making a living out of this!" The other guys just get on with it, playing "Ten Day Interval" for the ten thousandth time and then heading home.
I remember seeing Tortoise live in Melbourne after the release of It's All Around You and the whole band seemed so bloody bored by the whole thing, especially John McEntire. I hate that. This boxed set doesn't sound like a band having fun. It sounds like a band cashing in. And that's a shame.
I finally got It's All Around You, having been so disappointed by their latest live incarnation, and I realised anew how great Tortoise are. Listen to "Gamera", disc one, track one, and you'll believe it too. Delve much further and you'll be hard pushed to still believe that they're that great.
Time, and the next album, will tell.
Copyright © 2006 Tim Clarke