tortoise – standards

this album has sonic qualities to explore and a vivid memory attached. they’re unrelated, as you will read.

for the sounds, there’s something a little bit dirty three ‘western’ about the start of the first song, seneca. it was enhanced oddly by a helicopter flying low over my house as the noise peaked. it was like it belonged to the song. eventually this gives way to lumbering drums and quirky guitars (and possibly a harpsichord) with an electronic layer that sounds like a 1980s computer game. ghosts and goblins comes to mind, on the c64. it ends with uniform clapping the envy of any new-wave hipster band and transitions to eros with a tracking beacon bleeping. this song embodies experimental electronica.

the most memorable hook on this album arrives a couple of minutes into benway near the end, which is considerably different to how it starts (with further elements of computer game electronica). i’m hearing an influence in the disjunction reunion i listened to a week or two ago.

while it skews electronic, this album captures a lot of elements of jazz and shows the connective brilliance that is tortoise. the connections are obvious through doug mccombs and jeff parker who are also affiliated with ken vandermark and the chicago jazz/rock scene. there are also some really quite odd moments where i notice some industrial sounds, a bit like nine inch nails again, and some seeming vocoder effects and bass that resemble daft punk (on monica).

the beauty here comes in song four, firefly. it’s quiet like i imagine a night to be when fireflies emerge (we don’t have many in australia, at least not this far south). also speakeasy towards the end of the album, which takes on a darkly alluring quality around the three minute mark.

the weirdest thing i remember about this album, which has nothing to do with tortoise or the music itself, was a friend of my sister’s boyfriend who came to our house in ainslie one cool autumn night after they were both out drinking hard liquor. my sister was in adelaide at the time, and her boyfriend wasn’t used to drinking spirits. he’d lost coherence and i had to put him into bed almost as soon as they got home. this left me alone with the friend.

the friend was already notorious for having been banned from a local amateur football (soccer) competition for pissing on the field. this night, he first thought he’d follow me around as i got towels and put some water in a bucket, commending me for looking after mr bed ridden. as i bent over the bath to turn the tap on, he put his hands on my hips. what’s going on?

i moved quickly into the bedroom and told the friend to go into the lounge room where it was warm. i avoided returning there for as long as i could, knowing i couldn’t simply disappear into my bedroom and go to sleep. when i did emerge, he had found ease down the road by bonnie ‘prince’ billy amongst my cds. he was at the stereo tracking through the songs so i sat on the lounge. he landed on song six, after i made love to you. he sat back down on the lounge next to me, said he was hot and proceeded to take his shirt off (think simpsons where jimbo says “hey baby, my shirt’s chafing me, mind if i take it off?”). subtlety clearly wasn’t in his repertoire, nor ensuring an accurate sequence of events. i don’t feel safe.

i had repeated a few times that i would, nay should, drive him to his own home, which happened to be one of the australian national university student residences. i knew it by name, but not where it was. as long as it was far enough away from our house that he couldn’t wander back.

seriously uncomfortably by this stage, i walked out into the kitchen. this was my attempt at further avoidance, trying to work out a strategy to get him in the car. not long after, the friend walked in. the kitchen wasn’t heated. there he was sitting at our filthy table without a shirt on. he looked a little confused and forlorn, but not cold; thanks undoubtedly to the grog. at this point he said he thought standards was the best tortoise album. i said i’d have to get it (which i obviously did). placation.

i concluded by effectively insulting him, asking whether the two very lame tattoos on his arm were ones that he and my sister’s boyfriend had drawn on in texta that night. yes, i genuinely believed them to be fake. they weren’t. it seemed to be effective in bringing a realisation to him that i was not going to fall prey to his very awkward and unsexy ‘seduction’. his powers were lost. i told him to put his shirt back on, got the car keys and finally managed to get him out of the house. almost there.

i remember much less of the few kilometre drive, not actually knowing where i was going. i doubted his directions for the two obvious reasons. he insisted i had passed the residence. i insisted i hadn’t. i stopped somewhere in the middle of the campus, sure it musn’t be too far away. in spite of his protestations, i made him get out and i drove away. it was some time later that i realised he would have to have walked about 2 kilometres back to his dingy student flat. that was the last thing on my mind. relief.

it’s bizarre what the internet and time bring. the friend is now a musician himself in melbourne. his band doesn’t cite tortoise as an influence.

[another vid from braden king]


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