Tortoise Go Hot And Cold On Upcoming LP

Band fuses warm jazzy sounds with colder techno beats to create a uniquemusical hybrid.

As a testament to Tortoise's sly studio mastery, it's almost impossible

to

pinpoint where the cold, mechanical, programmed drum beats stop and

where

the warmer, human polyrhythms start during the jazz/jungle track "Jetty"

on

the Chicago post-rock combo's upcoming album TNT (March 10).

The track is the third part of a three-song suite that begins with the

long-windedly titled "In Sarah, Mencken, Christ and Beethoven There Were

Women and Men." The opening portion of the suite begins with programmed

machine beats and then segues into a classical guitar segment and back

to

beats, all while flirting with techno-dance rhythms on the two-minute

interim piece, "Almost Always Is Nearly Enough." All in all, it is

classic

Tortoise: a hint of one thing, then a strong dose of just the opposite

and

back again.

On their third full-length album, the group, which now also features

guitarist Jeff Parker of the Chicago Underground Orchestra and the New

Horizons Ensemble, in addition to bassists Douglas McCombs and Dave

Pajo,

drummer/vibes player John Herndon and drummers/keyboardists Dan Bitney

and

John McEntire, expand the already far-reaching scope of 1996's

Millions

Now Living Will Never Die with the addition of strings, muted brass

and

a healthy dose of skittering, jungly beats.

Recorded at their own Soma Studios in Chicago, the 12-track album opens

with the dusty-sounding drums of the title track, reminiscent of an old

Blue Note jazz album, slowly building into a wave-like thrust of

overlapping bass guitars and warped voices. "TNT" lays out the classic

Tortoise style, which, like the push-and-pull of grunge pioneers

Nirvana's

whisper-to-squall dynamics, is built upon a slow climb to a peak musical

rush, back into another slow exit. In Tortoise's case, however, that

climb

can take many subtle turns along the way, as in the schizophrenic

"Jetty."

The song repeatedly threatens to mutate into a straight-ahead techno-y

track, only to switch up the frantic beats in unexpected directions

without

delivering the regimented drum breaks dance club-goers have come to

expect.

As on Tortoise's previous albums, TNT is best heard on

headphones.

"Swing From the Gutters" features ping-ponging, skittering drums phasing

back and forth over abstract ambient beats and electric piano, while a

close listen to "The Equator" will reveal bird-like sound effects and

whale-call-like guitars bubbling under in the mix.

Also like Millions, at times TNT sounds like a spooky

soundtrack to a film that doesn't exist. The chill-inducing "Tubular

Bells"-like vibes of "Ten-Day Interval," which eventually breaks down

into

the sound of just a warm piano groove and the shouts of robotic children

playing outside, is as much a soundtrack to a noirish thriller as "I Set

My

Face to the Hillside" is incidental music for a non-existent Italian

love

tale.

The latter song, which opens with pseudo-flamenco acoustic guitars and

then

mutates into a spooky melodica-and-tambourine groove, sets the tone for

"The Suspension Bridge At Iguazu Falls," just two songs later, which

explodes into a polyphonic, world music drum-and-vibraphone jam that

might

easily unspool behind a disturbing nature documentary.

Also included on the album are "A Simple Way to Go Faster Than Light

That

Does Not Work," on which the band settles into the unique space it

inhabits

between avant-jazz and electronic music, and the album-closing, rumbling

storm of "Everglade." [Mon., Feb. 16, 1998, 9 a.m.

PST]