PRINT Summer 1996



Bongload. Try saying that word a couple of times, let it roll around on your tongue: bongload, bongload. . . . Listening to TORTOISE, you get the feeling that the guys in this Chicago band use it a lot (both the word and the stuff). If this sounds like a criticism, it’s not, really: the oceanic, spaced-out instrumentals that comprise their three albums (1994’s Tortoise, 1995’s Rhythms, Resolutions & Clusters, and the recent Millions Now Living Will Never Die) simply happen to be the perfect accompaniment to the rustling of plastic baggies and the muffled inhalations of bud appreciation; to the scritch, scritch, poof of striking matches, and the burble, burble, slorrp of the anticlimactic moment at hand.

Of course, this is no accident. Drugs and rock, like drugs and jazz, have always been inseparable; postrock genres like dub, ambient, and trance are no different (you have to listen to something while coming down). Consequently, Tortoise’s drug-tinged over- and undertones seem pretty much inevitable: after all, their music comes out of the strange juncture where the above-mentioned genres meet, over cocktails and bachelor pad music, and spawn mutant offspring. Space, obviously, is important here.

So the five guys who make up this indie-rock supergroup (its various members are veterans of Eleventh Dream Day, Shrimp Boat, Tar Babies, Poster Children, Bastro, Gastr del Sol, etc., etc.) leave lots of space in their music. Space between the noises and notes: between the angular, jangly, guitar riffs and lap steel keen and wail; between the Modern Jazz Quartet-tinged vibraphone runs and assorted percussive thumps, clanks, and clangs, both electric and otherwise. On MNLWND, sometimes the space gets filled in—with throbbing bass and synthesizer washes—and sometimes it doesn’t, leaving you lots of room to roam (especially on 20-plus-minute pieces like MNLWND’s “Djed”)—lots of room for your brain to slosh around in, drifting not-so-aimlessly through assorted sounds and silences. In the end, that’s what music like Tortoise’s is for, something to carry you along on those extended dérives that don’t necessarily go anywhere at all. Under the pavement, the beach.