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Tortoise To Release 4-Disc Box Set, A Lazarus Taxon [Thrill Jockey]

United States
10th March 2007 — After 12 years of expanding the definition of rock music, Tortoise will release a highly anticipated box set. A Lazarus Taxon is the paleontological term for a species that disappears, then reappears in the fossil record; its namesake is this collection including rare singles from foreign releases and tour EPs, compilation tracks, previously unreleased material and the out-of-print 1995 album Rhythms, Resolutions & Clusters. The set contains three CDs and one DVD, which features most of Tortoise’s music videos and extensive and rare live performance footage.

Shortly following Tortoise’s 1994 self-titled debut, the band asked some friends to remix several tracks, resulting in RR&C, a 30-minute continuous disc. The packaging was made and assembled by hand and the limited pressing sold out in the first year of release. At the time, remixes were the tool of the DJ and found most commonly in the dance-music world. RR&C and the 12” series that followed– some of which you will find in the set - set off a wave of remixes and remix albums in the rock community. A remix intended for this collection by Mike Watt makes its debut in A Lazarus Taxon.

The photography that appears in the album artwork is the work of Arnold Odermatt, a retired Swiss police officer-turned artist. Assigned to document auto accidents and police training, Odermatt’s photos were far more than documents. He often photographed the accident scenes again after all the officers had left and the clutter had been cleared. His photos were uncovered by the Springer and Winkler Gallery, which had Odermatt reprint them in limited editions. The photographs were an instant sensation and garnered Odermatt wide acclaim. Several books have since been published of his work. He has had solo shows at The Museum of Contemporary Art in New York and The Art Institute of Chicago. The Springer and Winkler Gallery and Odermatt graciously allowed Tortoise to use photos that they had selected for this package.

What’s been said about Tortoise:

“Tortoise, the instigator of an underground-style shortsightedly labeled post-rock and now accepted as the friendlier end of the avant-garde, makes instrumental music based on precise rhythms that register more in the head than in the hips. This isn’t meant to underestimate the band’s attempt to engage the body… in aiming for something other than the gut, Tortoise devises a new context in which to appreciate pop’s pleasures.” - The New York Times

“The concert-hall influence may be more Steve Reich than Stravinsky and the space exploration more about dub than Moog solos, but they made pretentiousness cool again. Plus, they solved prog’s old bugaboo of dumb lyrics.” - Spin’s Top 10 Essential Rock Albums (about Tortoise’s Millions Now Living Will Never Die)

“That sense of grounding – which never solidifies into rhythmic cliches – allows Tortoise to explore abstraction without seeming bloodless. To be smart and original, playful and provocative – those are the standards Tortoise really aspire to, and that they achieve here as ingeniously as ever. - Rolling Stone

“With its sometimes glacial epics, layered rhythms, narcotic hooks, bouts of atonality and almost total lack of vocals, Tortoise has always sounded exactly as its name would suggest – a slow-moving, amphibious creature that shows its head only when necessary and seems happiest underwater, safe from the predatory beasts of the corporate music industry. For its fourth album, Standards, however, Tortoise actually comes out of its shell and pokes around on land, and the result is by far its grooviest, most endearing work.” - W Magazine

“Mood music for post-post-moderns, both forward- and backward-looking.” - Entertainment Weekly

“The musicians’ clever arrangements and seemingly uncanny sensibilities elevate this recording to lofty heights as they also meld sweet-tempered, kaleidoscopic overtures with the finer attributes of progressive rock and electronica.” - Downbeat

“Complex ideas and themes flit by – from gamelan vibes, to bobbling, bottom-end electrophunk, to needle-precise guitar – so quickly and smoothly the overwhelming impression is of a band in constant motion.” - Uncut “This band swims the murky gulf between jazz and rock in search of fresh riffs. Entirely instrumental, the songs start with simple melodies that slowly make their way to climaxes full of overlapping rhythms that alternative between funky and mechanical.” - Time

“Rather than leave rock music for dead, Tortoise have re-injected it with its original sense of vast potential– they were quick to realize that the advent of ultra-sophisticated music technology needn’t spell its end, and the adapting new working strategies could in fact only bolster its freakout tradition. Alongside Sonic Youth, they’ve pointed up the spiritual affinities inherent in all high energy music, taking on board everything from minimalist composition and musique concrete through dub, avant electronics, and HipHop.” - The Wire UK

Track-by-track notes by John McEntire


1. “Gamera” / EP, Duophonic 1995

A drastic, extended reinterpretation of “His Second Story Island” from the first LP. These are amongst Bundy K. Brown’s last recordings with the group.

2. “Source Of Uncertainty” / Headz 2, Mo’ Wax 1996

John McEntire’s alternate mix of “Why We Fight.”

3. “Blackbird” / Standards Japanese bonus track, 2001

A reworking of material that was originally used for a piece commissioned by the Centre Pompidou.

4. “Sexual For Elizabeth” / Five Deez: Sexual For Elizabeth EP 2001

An unusual endeavor in that the original piece was entirely rewritten and rerecorded.

5. “To Day Retrieval” / EP, Thrill Jockey 1998

Autechre remix of “Ten Day Interval.” Part of the remix series of 12”s that followed TNT.

6. “Whitewater” / 7”, Soul Static Sound 1995

John McEntire performing on three instruments, live-to-2-track.

7. “Didjeridoo” / Red Hot + Indigo, Red Hot Organization 1999

From a compilation of diverse artists doing Duke Ellington pieces.

8. “Autumn Sweater” / Yo La Tengo: Autumn Sweater Remixes, Matador 1997

Remixed by Bundy K. Brown, John Herndon, Douglas McCombs, and David Pajo.

9. “Wait” / Offbeat: A Red Hot Sound Trip, Red Hot Organization, 1996

A Jeff Parker composition recorded with him before he was officially in the band. (this version remixed in ‘05)

10. “A Grape Dope” Millions Now Living Will Never Die Japanese (reissue) bonus track, 1996/2002

A collaboration with Designer (aka Casey Rice), this track was originally recorded for a Grand Royal/Mo’ Wax compilation that never materialized.

11. “Restless Waters” / The Lounge Ax Defense & Relocation Compact Disc, Touch N Go 1996

This track is based on the same family of material that begat “Dear Grandma And Grandpa” on Millions

12. “Vaus” / Split 7”, Duophonic 1996

Our contribution to a split 7” with Stereolab (“Speedy Car”) to promote our 1996 UK tour. A David Pajo composition that was a live staple for several years.

13. “Blue Station” / Standards Japanese bonus track, 2001

The source material is Douglas McCombs on electric bass, which was heavily processed and shaped into a piece by granular synthesis pioneer Curtis Roads.


1. “Madison Area” / 7”, Thrill Jockey 1998.

Single released to promote the TNT world tour. The B side contained an alternate version of the same material entitled “Madison Ave.”

2. “TNT (Nobukazu Takemura Remix)”

TNT Japanese bonus track 1998

3. “Why We Fight” / 7”, Soul Static Sound 1995

Another version this track also appears as a section of “Cliff Dweller Society.”

4. “Elmerson, Lincoln, and Palmieri” - It’s All Around You Japanese bonus track, 2004

5. “Peering” / Gently Cupping The Chin Of The Ape EP, Thrill Jockey 2001

Tour single released in support of Standards. Originally written on guitar and transmuted into the present guitar-less version.

6. “Goriri” / Macro Dub Infection, Virgin 1995

Bundy K. Brown and John McEntire executed a radical remix of “Gamera” on a moment’s notice for this compilation curated by Kevin Martin.

7. “As You Said” / A Means To An End, Virgin 1995

Our contribution to a Joy Division tribute compilation, which was initially rejected by the label. We attempted to create a simulacra of this obscure track, and then combined it with various Joy Division melodies and bass lines.

DISC 3 - Rhythms, Resolutions, And Clusters

1. “Alcohall”

remix of “On Noble” by John McEntire.

2. “Your New Rod”

remix of “Flyrod” by Rick Bown.

3. “Cobwebbed”

remix of “Spiderwebbed” by Casey Rice.

4. “The Match Incident”

remix of “Ry Cooder” by Steve Albini. Radio drama “actor”: John McEntire.

5. “Tin Cans (Puerto Rican Mix)”

remix of “Tin Cans and Twine” by Brad Wood.

6. “Not Quite East of the Ryan”

remix of “Spiderwebbed” (plus elements from other tracks) by Bundy K. Brown.

7. “Initial Gesture Protraction”

remix of “His Second Story Island” by Jim O’Rourke.

8. “Cornpone Brunch Watt Remix”

Remix of “Cornpone Brunch” by Mike Watt featuring extra basses by Watt and Kira Roeseler. The DAT master was sent just days before the record went into production in a large envelope that also contained the 2” master (and no packaging materials). Consequently, the DAT arrived in an unplayable state, where it remained for 12 years. Bundy K. Brown was ultimately able to repair the tape so that it could be available here for the first time.

8. “CTA” / Urban Renewal Program, Chocolate Industries, 2001

John Herndon’s reworking of “Blackbird.”

9. “Deltitnu” / It’s All Around You Japanese bonus track, 2004

A long, slowly developing improvisation which did not make the final cut for the LP proper due to time restrictions.

10. “Adverse Camber” / EP, Thrill Jockey 1998

Another Autechre remix of “Ten Day Interval.”

11. “Cliff Dweller Society” EP, Duophonic 1995

A sequence of short, discrete pieces that are tightly edited and presented as one long composition, following the tradition of DAF’s “Produkt” and This Heat’s “Tago Mago.” Almost all improvised, they were recorded over the course of one evening, with the exception of the long centerpiece which was composed by Dan Fliegel and features an expanded lineup of 3 basses, 2 drummers, 4 horns and pre-Tortoise JP on guitar.

12. “Waihopai” / Gently Cupping The Chin Of The Ape EP, Thrill Jockey 2001

Encompasses Dan Bitney’s concept of disaster striking a talk show.

Disc 4

1. Salt the Skies

This is the first video made for Tortoise that actually features the band. They were intrigued by director Adam Levite’s use of a bleeding edge digital camera, which could capture 3000 frames per second, thus very nearly stopping time. 5 seconds could be stretched to minutes and with remarkable clarity. This video gave them and a few friends the excuse to spend the whole day throwing things at each other... Doug McCombs was definitely the best sport of the crew; he stood absolutely still while large chairs were hurled in his direction.

2. Dear Grandma, Glass Museum and Four Day Interval:

Short clips made by filmmaker David Ellsworth. The found footage melds with his own socially charged material to make a subtle comment on the architecture of landscape and society. The band gave him music and he returned the favor with these short films whose textures complimented the music very well.

3. Seneca

A short film by Braden King. King is a filmmaker known for films such as “Dutch Harbor” wherein music plays a pivotal role. Not merely a tool for soliciting emotions, his pictures are paced and infused with music that he has composed for specific scenes. In the case of this video however, King turned the tables and assembled the footage around a song that he loved.

4. The Suspension Bridge and Iguazu Falls

Britons Paul and Ben Romans started doing live video for Tortoise performances in 1997. They were using innovative custom software that allowed the visual images to actually be moved or triggered by the music, in a sense creating a live collaborative video performance. After a year of traveling with the band and spending some time in Chicago they made this video, which features a plethora of footage shot in the city.

5 Monica / Live @ Primavera Sound

This was a filmed at a large annual music festival in Barcelona in 2005, and filmmaker Aram Garriga traveled to the festival specifically to capture the Tortoise performance and to interview the band for a documentary he is making on instrumental music. This is a multi camera shoot, and this track was edited from his footage specifically for this DVD.

6 7 songs / Live in Toronto, 1996

Filmed by a young Chris Mills, who is now known for his advanced and unique effects in videos for high-profile bands like Modest Mouse. He sent this to the band as a document for their archives, back when it was filmed. Happily, when contacted a decade later he was able to locate the masters and allowed us to use a large amount of his footage for this box set. Mills wanted to be sure we thanked Amy Hersenhoren, a promoter in Toronto who has supported the band with shows in that city since their inception.

7 Ten Day Interval, Othello / Deutches Jazz Festival, 1999

Fred Anderson, Chad Taylor, Noel Kupersmith, and Rob Mazurek are each well known in free music and jazz circles for their instrumental prowess and unique musical voices. Anderson, a founder of the AACM and proprietor of a well-loved venue (“The Velvet Lounge”) remains a pillar of the Chicago jazz community. For this event, Tortoise were asked to choose some artists to collaborate with, and it took them no time to name these four. This was the only time they all have shared a stage.

8 Seneca / “Live” on Chic-a-Go-Go

Roctober magazine editor and all-around Chicago musical historian Jake Austin has tirelessly run this cable access kids dance show for over a decade. In the tradition of “Soul Train,” Austin gets kids (and the young at heart) to dance for the camera to a variety of soul music, much of it from Chicago or Chicago labels. There is always a special guest, and Austin is incredibly eclectic in his choices. Too bad John McEntire’s legendary dance move, “the crustacean,” did not make it to film! 9 Salt The Skies / Burn To Shine: An ongoing film project conceived and executed by Fugazi’s Brendan Canty, who started the series by documenting bands in his hometown of Washington, DC. He films performances of local groups in houses that are slated for demolition. Some of these structures have been donated to fire departments for training, hence the “burn” in the title. This performance is taken from the second film in the series, which documented bands from Chicago.
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