Clip: Tortoise box
May 5, 2006
The post-rock pioneers gather their odds and sods for a summer release.
On August 22 Thrill Jockey will release the Tortoise box set A Lazarus
Taxon -- three CDs and one DVD of out-of-print, hard-to-find, and
unreleased material from across the band's career. "We've always
wanted to collect some of these rare things that have been floating
out there," says bassist Doug McCombs. "We actually talked about doing
this like five years ago, but it seemed too early."
The CDs combine the entirety of the out-of-print 1995 album Rhythms,
Resolutions & Clusters (guest remixes of early Tortoise material by
the likes of Steve Albini, Jim O'Rourke, and Brad Wood) with a batch
of bonus tracks from overseas CD releases, several seven- and
twelve-inch singles and tour-only discs, a few comp tracks, and a pair
of previously unreleased cuts.
"It's music that not a lot of people have heard that we think is
really cool. And stuff that isn't necessarily like what we do on our
albums," says McCombs. "Like we did an Ellington song for the Red Hot
+ Indigo compilation, and a couple of my favorite things we've ever
done are bonus tracks for Japanese album releases."
One of the unreleased cuts is a Mike Watt remix intended for Rhythms,
Resolutions & Clusters. His version of "Cornpone Brunch," from
Tortoise's self-titled 1994 debut album -- which Watt referred to at
the time as "the brown thing" because of its unbleached cardboard
sleeve -- arrived late on a damaged DAT and ended up shelved for a
decade, until preparations for A Lazarus Taxon got under way and
former Tortoise member Bundy Brown went digging for it. "None us had
ever even heard it until about four months ago," says McCombs. "We got
this broken DAT -- I don't remember if it was lost in the mail or if
it just took Watt a long time to get it to us. But Bundy hung onto it
and respooled the tape into a new frame. So we decided to put it on
the box set."
The DVD includes most of the band's videos -- really more like short
films -- and plenty of live footage, including seven songs from a
Toronto show in 1997, when David Pajo was still in the band, Tortoise
sharing the stage with Fred Anderson and the Chicago Underground Trio
at a German jazz festival in 1999, the group's Chic-a-Go-Go appearance
from 2003, and a performance at a Spanish festival in 2005.
The cover art was licensed from little-known Swiss photographer Arnold
Odermatt, a police officer who specialized in stark images of auto
accidents. The accompanying 20-page booklet includes many previously
unpublished concert photos, as well as a collection of essays about
Tortoise from admirers abroad -- published without translations in
Spanish, German, Japanese, and so on. A Lazarus Taxon will be released
in a single edition, with no re-pressings -- Thrill Jockey says it's
unlikely the CDs and the DVD will be separated later for individual
Tortoise is also returning to the studio to prepare a follow-up to
2004's It's All Around You. "We've already started working on it a
little bit," says McCombs, "but we're gonna try and get it done in
earnest over the summer." The new disc is tentatively scheduled for an
April 2007 release.
Record Time for Plush
Liam Hayes spent six years in and out of studios working on the most
recent Plush LP, Fed, in the process running up a monstrous tab that
forced his label, Drag City, to walk away from the project -- and he
still wasn't satisfied with the recordings. So it should come as a
relief to Plush fans that Hayes is currently at work on a new disc,
Bright Penny, and thinks he might be almost halfway done after just
four months of studio time.
Hayes decided to call Fed finished in 2002, but it never received a
proper U.S. release -- the Japanese label After Hours put it out
overseas, so it's available here only as a costly import. In fall 2004
Drag City's Sea Note imprint released Underfed, an early sketchbook
version of the album, and to celebrate Hayes reunited with drummer
Rian Murphy and bassist Russ Bassman -- his bandmates till the late
90s, they'd both quit during Fed's birthing pains -- for a show at the
Open End Gallery.
Since then Hayes has been roughing out new songs at studios in Los
Angeles and at home in Wicker Park. "I've been working on it off and
on," he says, "just doing different demos. Some stuff I did in LA a
couple years ago, and I'm just kind of bringing it all together. It's
been in pieces and now I have some final tracks."
Formal sessions for Bright Penny began in December at the New York
home studio of Salon music critic Thomas Bartlett, who's also the
keyboardist in the art-pop band Doveman. Hayes is financing and
producing the album himself, but Tom Lunt, co-owner of Chicago reissue
label the Numero Group, is managing the other aspects of the project
as its executive producer. Bright Penny is a full-band affair, and so
far the musicians contributing include jazz and soul session drummer
Morris Jennings (who also appeared on Fed) and Bob Lizik and Jim
Hines, the rhythm section from Brian Wilson's current backing group.
"We might be as much as 40 percent done," says Hayes, "depending on
how some of the recent stuff turned out."
Though the sessions are scheduled to continue into the summer, it's
unclear when the disc will reach stores. "From the start we wanted
this to be a 2006 release," says Hayes. "That's what I'm still hoping
Once the album is finished, Hayes says he'll switch gears and start
thinking about securing a record contract -- Lunt has already put out
feelers, and several indie labels have responded encouragingly. Hayes
is hoping that any deal to release Bright Penny will include a U.S.
release for Fed too -- he's recouped some of his expenses after a few
years of Japanese sales, so he'll be able to lower the asking price
that drove Drag City away. "Fed is still available. If somebody's
interested, it's there," says Hayes. "But my focus right now is mainly
on completing this new batch of songs."
The Continuing Adventures of Emmett Kelly
Emmett KellyLocal guitar wunderkind Emmett Kelly, profiled in the
Meter in January, continues to keep exceptional company. He spent most
of the past four months on the road backing Beth Orton, and this
winter he was part of the studio band on Then the Letting Go, the
forthcoming disc from Bonnie "Prince" Billy, aka Will Oldham. (Due
from Drag City on September 19, it'll be preceded by the single
"Cursed Sleep" on July 25.) The disc was recorded in Iceland by Bjork
collaborator Valgeir Sigurdsson; the band also included Jim White of
the Dirty Three on drums, Oldham's brother Paul on bass, and Dawn
McCarthy from Faun Fables on vocals. It's still not clear if Kelly
will accompany Oldham on tour this fall, but in the meantime his own
project the Cairo Gang will be doing some road work in support of its
self-titled debut -- originally scheduled for an April release, it
comes out on Narnack in July. The Cairo Gang has also landed a plum
gig opening for the Fall on May 30 at the Logan Square Auditorium.