So the joke goes...."Jazz!!!...Is God's way of saying, that a Musician has become too proficient with their instrument". You can take a little grain of truth from that joke, in the fact that Jazz musicians (depending on the type of Jazz), can occasionally be considered a little scholarly & Precise in their studious composition. "Tortoise" are (in theory) a studious instrumental indie band, consisting of members that have previously excelled in other bands, and have come together to form a 'Indie Supergroup' (of sorts). Consisting of multi-instrumentalists: Dan Bitney, John Herdon, Douglas McCombes & Bundy K. Brown, and centre around linchpin (and drummer) John McEntire.
Their Music is primarily a combination of softly performed 'Experimental-Rock', "Indie Rock" & "Post-Rock", that manages to reference their influences of: Krautrock, dub, avant-garde jazz, classical minimalism, ambient and space music, film music & electroncia. The sound is one of music that is a reflective and cerebral blend of meditative instrumentals that does touch upon elements of their musical influences. that although to some degree are rooted in jazz structures, have a free-from almost semi-improvised jamming feel to it. The subtle use of percussion, basses, and occasional electronics are all skillfully interwoven into their tracks and create a sort of wistfully detached musical atmosphere. And although electronic sampling and manipulation at various points through their tracks is evident, it's the intertwining guitar motifs that are their strongest assets. And this is where that Jazz reference most clearly rears its head. Not in that it Jazz music, but more that it that the sensibilities of Jazz (Texturing the music, precise performances, and to a greater degree....Mood), are all skillfully worked into shimmering rhythms and distinctive taut dynamics that only years of excelling with your instrument can bring.
Tortoise's music is one, that never really breaks out of a laid-back speed, one that is in equal parts hushed gentle rhythms, and intimate precious sounding cerebral noodling. This is music that doesn't intially hit you immediately but more a sound that slowly over the course of time, works its way into your consciousness, and although there is the occasionally odd bit of production/arrangements, they (over time), actually seem to merely be part of the charm of Tortoise's music. And anyone that is fully armed with the facts regarding Tortoise's minimally atmospheric instrumentals and doesn't appreciate the sublime-ness of tracks such as: "Ry Cooder", "Flyrod", "Onions Wrapped in Rubber" & "Magnet Pulls Through" will (as much as it pains me to say this) probably never 'get' Tortoise.
Being a huge fan of instrumental music, I found that this album, was a fantastically performed and arranged minimal guitar/percussion led album that manages to be cool, ambient, rhythmically symphonic, playful and musically textured, and one that will delight those that want something a little more cerebral in their music. Sure....they'll be those that consider Tortoise's music a little too clinical and scholarly to truly embrace, with no vocals to latch onto, and that the music veers a little bit too closely too musical noodling & ((shudders)) Muzak!!!, , to give the group the kudos they deserve. And if I'm being completely honest with you, there is a little bit of truth in those claims, and those people should pass over Tortoise and look for something else. But that doesn't mean that isn't still an exceptionally performed and elegantly composed album, and although the band would learn from this release and their next album (The seminal "Millions Now Living, Will Never Die") would find them performing more as a unit, rather than a group of highly talented musicians performing together. This is still a remarkably classy and (in some cases) funky debut, that is the perfect introduction to the band.