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
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
And i have to admit that this is not for everybody. I can see
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.