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Artist: Tortoise 
Label: Thrill Jockey

Somewhere in between jazz, rock and electronica lies the genre known as post-rock. If I may be honest here, I am no expert on the genre ­ this album is, in fact, my first exposure to it. Apparently, it was my sisterís friendí s first exposure as well. About two songs into it, she noted, "This sounds like music people listen to when they get high!"

No, there arenít any pop hooks on Standards (although there are some handclaps on "Seneca" ­ Top 40 radio, look out for Tortoise!). There are even less guitars than on the last Radiohead record, and there are not one, but two, vibes players. The liner notes are an incomprehensible mess of characters. But Iíve listened to this album more than any other this month (and Iíve had it less than a week) ­ why am I so intrigued by it?

In her book Walking on Water, Madeleine LíEngle speaks about a concept called "cosmos in chaos" ­ without going into too much detail (read the blasted book yourself), this is the idea that good art tries to find some sort of order in the disorder of the universe. Iím not sure if LíEngle would call Standards "good art" ­ I could argue both that it finds cosmos in the chaos and that it is nothing more than a portrait of the chaos. Instruments swirl in and out in an almost random factor. Songs begin and end within tracks but bleed over track lines. There are melodies present, but they never last all the way through a song, and I have a hard time remembering them when they have run their course. The only tracks that resemble regular songs are the second half of "Benway" and my personal favorite, "Blackjack" ­ both of these driven by shiny vibes.

"Firefly" could be the soundtrack to the first spaghetti space opera. The first part of "Seneca" is a nearly unlistenable freeform jazz experiment. "Eros" is marked by a somewhat obnoxious metronome.

In the end, I think Tortoise are indeed content to merely paint a portrait of the chaos. Iíve never heard a better one, though.

Michial Farmer (2/21/01)

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