[midlife 150] #102: tortoise “ten-day interval”

February 17, 2011

Album cover for TNT by Tortoise

#102 Ten-Day Interval” by Tortoise, available on TNT, 1998 [buy on CD from Boomkat] [buy from iTunes]

There was a time in the mid-to-late 1990s when the term post-rock was virtually synonymous with Chicagoan noodlers Tortoise, such was the influence of the band’s second album, Millions Now Living Will Never Die (1996).

TNT, the follow-up, was probably the last major release before the post-rock axis’ centre of gravity shifted north towards Montreal, as Godspeed You! Black Emperor released their debut.

Dialling down both the density and intensity, TNT largely swapped out the Krautrock and dub heritage of its predecessor in favour of jazz and ambient influences. Let’s be clear, though: it is neither a jazz nor an ambient album.

Along with “I Set My Face To The Hillside” (a charmingly loungey latin folk number), “Ten-Day Interval” is the most accessible piece on the album. Its hypnotic, iterative, arpeggiated rhythms recall Steve Reich‘s Music For 18 Musicians, of course. But its suggestive quality also reminds me of the film scores of Japanese maestro Joe Hisaishi (Sonatine, Spirited Away and many, many more).

It’s this filmic feel that gives the piece its quiet impact. The portentous chimes and sustained bass draw you into a state of suspended anticipation, as if waiting for something inevitable but profound (whether for good or ill isn’t clear). That the stream of squeaks of burbles at the end outlast the musically straightforward resolution suggests it’s not a narrative with neat closure. Indeed, later on in TNT‘s tracklist, a companion piece, “Four-Day Interval”, reopens its themes in organic slow motion – night to “Ten-Day Interval”‘s day.

As such the two pieces provide the flâneur-hermit (it takes one to know one) with a conspiratorial spur to the imagination that hints at drama beneath the surface of the mundane – the perfect soundtrack to his solitary, headphoned experience of the city.

This review is part of close to 94‘s [midlife 150] series, which counts down favourite music 1970-2009.

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