This week we are taking a step back and looking at Tortoise’s 1998 release of TNT. The post-rock, electronic indie sound of Tortoise’s music epitomizes the post-Nirvana experimental music of the time. Tortoise does something interesting with this album by combining elements of jazz, electronica, and punk rock into one single psychedelic sound.
With the grunge age coming to an end, artists were branching out and away from the messy, heavy sound of alternative rock and shifting the definition of alternative to cover a broader range of experimental music by incorporating electronic sounds into the mix. It’s hard to name all of the different sounds emanating from this album because the mix is so diverse. Even though the electronic element is the most noticeable of Tortoise’s sound, they still perform without leaving humanity out of the music. You can still hear each individual instrument being played over top of one another—the musicianship is admirable.
Tortoise got their start when drummer John Herndon and bassist Doug McCombs began playing together in 1990’s Chicago. Soon, other drummers John McEntire and Dan Bitney, along with bassist Bundy K. Brown joined the duo. Just like that, Tortoise’s first self-titled project was underway.
Listening to this album is like listening to a mashup of Death Cab for Cutie and POND, without the lyrics. The second song on the album almost feels like a New York jazz club, with the steady beat of the cymbals leading into a hushed, mysterious, electronic sound, and then back into a jazzy finish. The title of the song “Swung From the Gutters” seems to fit the mood well, adding an interesting and classy overall tone to the song.
Each song seems to generate a different image than the one before. The fourth track, “I Set My Face to the Hillside,” gives the listener a definite image of standing on a hill, looking out to the landscape below. With the sound of chimes paired with gentle soundscapes, you can almost feel the wind on your face as you take in the soft sounds of the instrumentals. The next track, “The Equator,” gives off a completely different vibe. With heavy bass and guitar sounds, this song is less of a gentle journey through the hills and more of an arduous hike through the desert. The entire album takes you from one place to the next on a musical road trip with each song as a new destination.
There is nothing about Tortoise that feels certain, rather, the Tortoise experience is what you make of it. The best way to embrace the uniqueness of this album is by not trying too hard to understand it, but just allowing it to be what it is already and letting the sounds work their own mysterious magic.
Image retrieved from wikipedia.com.