Tortoise: A Lazarus Taxon 

CD Review

With wonderment, I heard of the long-awaited release of Tortoise's box set. Would this box set take on the usual "best of" format? Would it cost a fortune? Would I be pleasantly surprised? I rushed downtown to pick up a copy. I soon had answers to two of my looming questions. First, the box set (three CDs and one DVD) was a tad under $20! And yes, partially for that reason, I was pleasantly surprised.

Tortoise's humble beginnings trace back to Chicago in 1990. Falling under the rather loose guise of "experimental rock," the band--John McEntire, Dan Bitney, John Herndon, Doug McCombs and Jeff Parker--took flight, creating a style of music all their own. With a mix of jazz, electronica, rock and absolutely no vocals, the band continues to be consistently bewildering and consistently enchanting. Tortoise is all over the map stylistically, but with shimmering rhythms, manages to weave a coherent tapestry of sound. Their sound is all at once cool, ambient and rhythmically symphonic. The listener, though, always remains grounded with solid bass and drum lines. Like the music of Bill Laswell, this music is made for the road.

I have found through the years that with Tortoise, one should always set expectations aside. A Lazarus Taxon is no exception. This new release is in no way a best-of box set. It includes wonderful remixes of some of their earlier work, seven-inch and 12-inch EP releases and a few tasty remixes by other artists (the Minutemen's Mike Watt stands out). Tortoise's long out-of-print Rhythms, Resolutions and Cluster LP fills out the third CD in the collection. The DVD is full of live performance footage with a few fun and quirky music video bits mixed in. The DVD is a reminder that this band is not only a studio project but a fantastically creative and skilled live ensemble. The box set is rounded out with an informative 20-page booklet. All in all, A Lazarus Taxon is a wonderful window into what Tortoise represents both musically and beyond--well worth the price tag.

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