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  • Carl Z.
    May 5, 2006 Box Tortoise The post-rock pioneers gather their odds and sods for a summer release. On August
    Message 1 of 1 , May 5 6:26 AM

      May 5, 2006

      Box Tortoise
      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
      for, anyway."

      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.

      --BOB MEHR
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