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Tortoise | Standards (Warp)
In the two years or so since their third album of original material, it's fair to say that the 'movement' to which Tortoise remain inextricably linked, uh, Post-Rock, has seen its profile sink like a reluctant sunset, the Constellation label perversely seeing an upswing in interest/sales thanks to those new pioneers of the anti-chorus, Godspeed You Black Emperor! and the multiple spin-offs and side-projects emanating from that collective. The switch of labels from the eclectic stable of City Slang to the confines of Warp has coincided, at least in this reviewer's eyes/ears, with the first Tortoise album not to bear the invisible subtitle 'essential.' Standards, however persistently the accompanying press release may argue, is not "their most concise statement of purpose so far," nor are "the tunes...direct and immediate." On the contrary this is an album closer in spirit to the last, forgettable effort from Herndon, Parker and Bitney's improvisational outfit Isotope 217. In the same way that Who Stole The I Walkman (and to a lesser degree it's predecessor Utonian Automatic) eschewed the melodic invention of the debut, The Unstable Molecule, for fatigue-inducing indulgence, so Standards noodles unsatisfactorily but persistently for its duration. When the only notes I make during a playback are 'Frampton - Show Me The Way' and 'R2D2 dialogue' you know we're in trouble. The former comment was made in reference to Monica, which began with the promise of something retro and huge but, like its namesake (my mother), soon became a nagging presence in the background. Eden on the other hand did induce some slightly more welcome retrospection, if only for its androidal flashback to the original, Woolwich Odeon-experienced Star Wars of 79. With, arguably, their finest moment, Gamera, relegated to the flip of a limited edition 12" way back when, maybe my take on Tortoise is at odds with their bigger game plan. But Standards, as with large chunks of TNT before it, cries out for such inspirational John McEntire percussive prowess as evidenced on Gamera and - what remains their finest album - 96's Millions Now Living Will Never Die.
CWAS #7 - Spring 2001