To get a concise introduction to Tortoise have a read of Thrill Jockey’s Press release below but if you really want to get into the bands history we advise that you set-a-side a day or two – the links below this article are a good starting place.
Thrill Jockey’s press release for Tortoise, “Standards”.
Seneca > Eros > Benway > Firefly > Six pack
Eden 2 > Monica > Blackjack > Eden 1 > Speakeasy
"Standards," the fourth full-length recording from Chicago's Tortoise, boldly announces their return following 1998's TNT. Tortoise spent the bulk of 1998 and a portion of 1999 touring the world. Following tours of the U.S., Europe, South America, Japan, Brazil, and Australia, Tortoise members worked on other projects that occupied them until the spring of 2000 when they began to record "Standards".
In 1999,Tortoise had the pleasure of doing a series of live dates in the U.S. as Tom Zé's band, playing his compositions. Bitney, Herndon, and Parker worked fastidiously to produce two full-length Isotope 217 albums. Parker also recorded two records under the Chicago Underground moniker. McCombs realized a full-length as well as an EP for Brokeback, plus new albums for both Pullman and Eleventh Dream Day. McEntire completed construction of his Soma Electronic Music Studios, and in the meantime was able to record and/or produce artists such as Stereolab, The High Llamas, The For Carnation, Smog, and The Sea & Cake as well as "Standards."
Musically, "Standards" is perhaps their most concise statement of purpose thus far. The tunes are direct and immediate, yet they maintain the exploratory edge that has always characterized the group's output. The fusion of instrumental sounds (electric, acoustic, and synthesized) is subtle and subversive. Similarly, the group's fluency within the studio environment gives the finished work a quality that alternates between artifice and reality.
Whilst "TNT" was constructed in the studio using segments recorded, improvised, or altered electronically, the "Standards" sessions began after a period of rehearsal and composition. The contrast, simply stated, is that the studio was used extensively as a compositional tool for "TNT," whereas with "Standards" it was used predominantly as tool to realize and enhance the existing new compositions. The studio does not impose itself on the recording to the same degree we witnessed on "TNT," and the resulting record is in many ways reminiscent of their unadorned s/t debut. Sounds, notes, and rhythms are manipulated (such as the drums on Seneca) but in general, processing is spare (with the exception of Benway's 1st half, which is entirely synthesized).
From the dramatic opening of Seneca to the soaring melodies of Blackjack; from the swing of Benway to the motion of Six Pack, "Standards" is anything but standard. Tortoise's highly lyrical melodies, rich and varied tonal palette, and high level of musicianship were recorded in a studio designed by McEntire. The resulting record is the clearest demonstration of the band's many skills and strengths. Tortoise has used each successive record and collaboration to push their personal musical boundaries: from the 1994 self-titled debut; to 1996's "Millions Now Living Will Never Die;" to 1998's "TNT;" to their collaborations with Autechre, Oval, Derrick Carter, and Steve Albini, amongst others. "Standards" is a document of
lessons learned, skills refined. It is clearly their finest work to date.
Dan Bitney: Bass, Guitar, Percussion, Vibes, Marimba, Keyboards, Baritone Saxophone
John Herndon: Drums, Vibes, Keyboards, Sequencing
Douglas McCombs: Bass, Bass 6, Guitar, Lap Steel
John McEntire: Drums, Modular Synthesizer, Ring Modulator Guitar, Electric Harpsichord, Keyboards
Jeff Parker: Guitar, Bass
Recorded and Mixed by John McEntire at Soma Electronic Music Studios, Chicago, IL, 2000.