In 1996, post-rock hadn’t quite coalesced into the form it’s generally thought of now. Godspeed You! Black Emperor, Mogwai and Sigur Rós were still months away from releasing their debut albums, and the term was more associated with the groovy, spacey likes of Pram and Stereolab.
Tortoise’s second album was clearly post-rock, but it felt different. The influences the Chicago outfit shared with those bands were on show: the motorik beat on ‘Djed’, or the Steve Reich-like vibraphone throughout. But with no vocalists, and overt nods to Ennio Morricone, there was a different atmosphere. It felt epic, and dust-blown, and cinematic. To be grossly simplistic, it sounded American.
What's striking about hearing ‘Millions Now Living...’ again now, after years of heavier bands playing instrumental post-rock, is just how playful it is. Opener ‘DJed’ may be 20 minutes long, but the organ part is almost wilfully cheesy. ‘The Taut And Tame’ does the quiet/loud thing in foot-tapping fashion, and the whole thing has a real pace and groove to it (you can add jazz and funk to the stew of ingredients here).
Tortoise haven’t quite caught mainstream attentions in the same way as some of their peers, remaining an influential cult band. But ‘Millions Now Living...’ is a fearsomely good record and now reissued on vinyl, where it's supposed to be. You know what to do.
Words: Will Salmon
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