Tortoise A Lazarus Taxon

Tortoise A Lazarus Taxon
In the body of experimental music in the late ’90s, Tortoise were the beating heart, taking in and pumping out the disparate sounds of an exploratory time when indie rockers hit dance floors, electronic producers experimented with free music, and post rock partied with both its jazz grandparents and its drunk prog rock uncles. The Chicago collective of multi-instrumentalists absorbed and interpreted a wondrous cross-section: Brian Eno, Steve Reich, Charles Mingus, dub minimalists. Along the way, they remixed and were remixed, accumulated tour-only singles and one-off compilation appearances, and even made some (abstract, slo-mo) music videos. But at heart, Tortoise remain experimenters, and that’s why A Lazarus Taxon, which gathers all those odds and sods in a three CD, one DVD box, provides a fascinating window into their restless career. The biggest whole chunk is Rhythms, Resolutions and Clusters, a full album remix of their self-titled 1994 debut. Two discs connect the dots between other albums, providing a surprisingly coherent and pleasurable listening experience. As lyric-less explorers, their reach circled the world; liner notes are written in five different languages (not translations), providing another window into the world of Tortoise.

How did this set come together? Multi-instrumentalist Douglas McCombs: Quite a few [tracks] were some of the favourite things we had done, and have a different feel than our albums. We do them a lot quicker than we do our album tracks, which have many hours put into them. There’s a whole different side to Tortoise that’s represented in this growing body of work. I can’t overstate how much I believe the stuff on this box is not throwaway material.

A box set usually means the end of a band. Tortoise is definitely not over. I don’t think we have any intention of ever quitting, whether people want us to or not. This band is far too rewarding for any of us to give up on. It’s made the idea of being a musician grow in leaps and bounds and presented me with so much creativity and positive feedback.

How will you follow this up? We’ve been writing over the summer and I hope we’ll be recording soon. We never know until we start working how hard it’s going to be. We work on the record and when it’s done, then we have a release date. That’s the interesting thing about the box set tracks — they were done with a deadline and it makes us think in a different way. I don’t know, maybe deadlines are cool. (Thrill Jockey)