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  Thrill Jockey  
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When i first heard this disc i thought "What the ... ?" and after a full listen went and plugged in TNT, the previous album by Tortoise. TNT is .. well, i would say that it is jazz. Or at least, closer to jazz than it is to rock. Standards is, on first listen, closer to electronic music than jazz. Computer noises bleep and blip and distort the various instruments.

At first, i was quite disapointed at Tortoise's new take on things. However, this did not prevent me from going to see them in concert. To warm up for that show i took Standards off of the shelf again, and to my surprise i liked it.

No, really -- what is going on here is subtle, but really beautiful. John McIntyre and company have taken the jazz of their previous LP and fed it through a computer to come up with, basically, a really interesting series of remixes of their music. It's like remixes in that an original piece of music is taken, fed through a computer, and modified. It is unlike a remix in that the original doesn't exist anywhere. This is not literally a remix of TNT. I rather mean to imply that the music itself has been computer-processed.

That makes for some interesting listening, i think. Of particular interest to me is Eros, a tune which fuses both electronic and organic elements. It starts with some drum n bass type drum sounds and a lovely little keyboard melody. Eventually the songs erupts into a flurry of organic drumming and a happy little xylophone and keyboard melody. I find myself humming this song occasionally -- it's that catchy!

I also really like Firefly, which features ambient drones backing a nicely played light flamenco guitar melody. It's that juxtapostition of old and new that i find interesting, and it continues throughout the album.

Which brings me to my main point here. I find that a lot of electronic music sounds very electronic. It sounds as if the artists are rejecting all that has come before and embracing The Computer as the only possible interesting thing in music. On the other hand there are lots of organic musicians who try very very hard to hide any computer effects that might be neccessary in the recording. Here i am thinking of Dave Matthews and those hippie artists. I am sure that overdubs, etc. go on, but darned if you can hear it!

With Standards Tortoise bridge the gap between the old and the new. I hear elements of both types of music blended together very nicely. I almost said "seamlessly" in that last sentence, but other Minions have pointed out how the electronics are noticeable, so i guess it's not seamless. Pretty close though.

This all seems very fresh and new. However, there are a few other examples of electronica / rock fusion. Parts of Dead Cities by Future Sound Of London blend the two (especially My Kingdom). This type of fusion of electronic with organic is also, i think, what Radiohead were trying to do with Kid A. They ended up leaning way more towards to electronic side, and i think that it doesn't work there as well as it does here.

And i have to admit that this is not for everybody. I can see how Tracers is turned off by this album as opposed to TNT. Her enjoyment of organic music and her lack of appreciation for electronic music combine to make Standards less enjoyable than TNT. In fact, i would imagine that there is a whole class of people who could live their lives perfectly well without every listening to anything even remotely electronic. And more power to them, i say. But the computer is infiltrating the music industry as it has infiltrated every other aspect of modern life. If you are not a luddite living in an unheated shack in the woods (and without a damned Cell Phone!), then such opinions are somewhat hypocritical.

I mean to say - if computers are good for some things (emailing your friends, posting musical rants for the publis to read, etc.), then why not try using it for other things. Computer processed music is, from my persepctive, an utterly logical step. However, i do think that a more fluid fusion of electronic music is necessary than what has come before. And Tortoise might very well have shown us the way.

Related Links:
  Tortoise in concert for Standards.  

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