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How a group of ex-punk rockers came to revitalize the state of independent music in the '90s is anybody's guess, but Tortoise have been placed at the forefront of a collective of musicians intent on pushing the common formulas of Indie Rock. Their debut record was steeped in post-Slint tempos, but came alive in the icy, cavernous production. Echoes of dub ran through the record, and tracks like "Cornpone Brunch" hinted towards jazzier explorations. DJ's and electronic artists took to the group and a full-length remix record followed. With the '96 release of Millions Now Living Will Never Die, they established their distinct sound: an involved, shifting patchwork of cut and paste aesthetics, dueling vibraphones, and kinetic exercises in both dub and film scores. Their on-stage performances were equally involved, with members constantly rotating and adding a liveliness to the music in which certain critics were finding a kind of science. The addition of free jazz guitarist Jeff Parker gave the group a warmer yet more insular sound. The recent TNT was both meticulously detailed and limber, melodic and fully realized. Perhaps the group's greatest fault is the cavalcade of copyists they have inspired. Legions of Indie Rockers now create instrumental passages and name drop Steve Reich, creating a monotonous din of mediocrity which is often lofted back at the band by decriers. The band continue unrivalled though, creating complex, ornate music open to a wide array of instrumentation and only occasionally sounding like Weather Report.
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