Tortoise // The Catastrophist
Tortoise revolutionized American indie rock in the mid-'90s by playing down tried-and-true punk and rock & roll influences, emphasizing instead the incorporation of a variety of left-field music genres from the previous 20 years, including Krautrock, dub, avant-garde jazz, classical minimalism, ambient and space music, film music, and British electronica. At odds as well with the shambling framework of alternative rock's normal song structure, the group — as large as a septet, with at times two vibes players — relied on a crisp instrumental aesthetic, tied to cool jazz, which practically stood alone in American indie rock by actually focusing on instrumental prowess and group interaction. Although the group's unique vision is to an extent the creation of drummer and master producer John McEntire, most of the other members are well-connected — producers and/or participants — in Chicago's fraternal indie rock community, which consists of numerous side projects and ongoing bands. After debuting in 1993 with several singles and an LP, Tortoise's underground prestige emerged above terra firma with their second album, Millions Now Living Will Never Die; the 21-minute opening track "Djed" was a sublime pastiche of Krautrock, dub, and cool jazz. Tortoise then linked themselves with the cream of European electronica (Luke Vibert, Oval, U.N.K.L.E., Spring Heel Jack) to remix the album on a series of 12" singles. Despite the band's growing reliance on studio engineering, Tortoise began re-emphasizing their instrumentalist bent in 1998 for their third album, TNT.