Wars are shocking and impactful phenomena that have devastating consequences for the human experience. As Betrand Russel once said, “War does not determine who is right – only who is left.” It is in this vein that French filmmaker Christian Carion has directed his latest film, Come What May, a suspense-filled drama he co-wrote with Andrew Bampfield and Laure Irrmann that depicts Nazi atrocities in such a vivid way it will get the audience furious all over again about that terrible regime. Despite a formulaic feeling that will be familiar to those who have seen many World War II films, the violence is quite vivid and inescapable, set in contrast to the bucolic European landscape, which is heightened by strong camera work and a score from a well-known composer.
The Hateful Eight is just a tiresome exercise in drawing out mean caricatures of annoying people — a film review
December 24, 2015
Note: This is a review of the longer, “Roadshow” version of The Hateful Eight.
Quentin Tarantino has finally done it. He’s made a movie that’s too long for its own good. You know there’s a problem when the dialogue of a Tarantino movie gets tiresome and the violence becomes nothing more than decadent and mean-spirited. Broken into two sections with a 12-minute intermission, The Hateful Eight, fails to engage in its meandering and overlong first half, which ends up impacting its second half in the worst way possible: it diminishes the film’s consequences and punishes the audience with nothing more than repellent, nihilistic cruelty.
OK, so you should know what you are in for with a title like The Hateful Eight. It refers to the film’s eight shady anti-heroes of the “Wild West,” who find themselves trapped in an outpost during a blizzard. All of them harbor essential secrets whose gradual reveal leads to an eventual bloodbath. Like the issues with Martin Scorsese’s infamous Wolf of Wall Street (Wolf of Wall Street’ is one nasty, vulgar film about nasty, vulgar people– for 3 hours!), characters lacking sympathy in such an over-long movie makes for problematic storytelling. The chief problem lies in the editing department, making Sally Menke once again sorely missed. As it was in Tarantino’s previous movie, Django Unchained (Film review: ‘Django Unchained’ celebrates myth and history with humor and horror), his first without Menke, there are problems in tone and pacing and an excess that feels so redundant it becomes dull and condescending.
The first part of The Hateful Eight is filled with the twisted threat of violence by a group of characters trying to suss each other out while stuck in a snowstorm at Minnie’s Haberdashery, the isolated mountain roadhouse where much of the drama unfolds. John Ruth (Kurt Russell) and Major Marquis Warren (Samuel L. Jackson), two bounty hunters, bring in Ruth’s captive, Daisy Domergue (Jennifer Jason Leigh) to hunker through the storm, finding a group of strangers they don’t trust and no sign of Minnie, who Marquis knows personally. Thus the suspicions begin.
It sounds like a good concept worth its slow burn. However, Tarantino, who also wrote the script, has drawn it out so long, that the dialogue creaks out with what has become a familiar formula of his plays on racism and bigotry that ends up overshadowing the fleshing out of identity. Then there are the tiresome jokes that out wear their novelty, like characters having to constantly nail boards to shut the haberdashery’s door against the snow. Plot twists aside, there’s little more story than this and little sense that anything crucial is at stake. It’s as if the film were an exercise in bringing eight shifty characters together to see how they would do each other in if they were stuck in close quarters, like a gladiator match with words and guns. It’s almost a cold exercise in story development instead of an actual story. It feels as if Tarantino has taken the extended scene of the basement bar of Inglourious Basterds and stretched it into a feature-length movie with twists that fail to reach the heights of his 2009 film without on of its context.
Before the intermission, almost two hours into the film, the first shot is fired and stakes are finally increased, and by then, you can’t wait for these people to start killing each other in cruel, spectacular ways disguised as humor. Unfortunately, that means you have more than an hour to go, and there’s no more pay off other than the film’s nasty tone, which also features a flashback to some “nice” people drawn out as if they were made of sentimental straw. The second half is all brutality and blood with some good lines here and there, but it all feels so meaningless and malicious, and it is a fundamentally problematic issue with the film.
Because of all the hype about The Hateful Eight being shot on 70mm, it is also worth noting how disappointing the cinemascope widescreen is. It’s nowhere near as grand as expected. The West is castrated by the snow, and sure, Robert Richardson gets nice wide shots of giant horse-drawn carriages and the expressive faces of some of the actors, but, more often than not, the mise-en-scene is so overwhelming that never honestly engages the audience. Russel, Demian Bichir and James Parks are among those lost in the excess of facial hair symbolic of the obstruction that has blinded Tarantino’s ego to dial it back. The only cinematic quality worth its while is Ennio Morricone’s score, but you’re better of buying the vinyl soundtrack.
In the end, The Hateful Eight’s weakness is its script. Fine, it’s in the title, but not a single one of these characters have redeeming qualities that make up for their bad sides. Pick your scale of bad guy and root for him (or her). Some are racist, throwing around the N-word with aplomb, while others carry a twisted righteousness that permits them to beat a woman at any chance. All are liars to some degree, some more interesting than others. But despite a seeming complexity, there’s something inhuman and mechanical about it all. They boil down to primal caricatures unworthy of audience sympathy. It’s as if Tarantino expects the audience to be interested in hokey representations of people standing in as jokes. What happens when you sacrifice fleshing out a person for the sake of a joke? Well, this film is our prime example, unengaging, mind-numbing and plain tiresome.
The Hateful Eight is available to watch in two different formats, in two different running times. There’s a 168 minute version in digital at most theaters and 187 minute roadshow version on 70mm. It is rated R. It opens everywhere on Dec. 25. All images are courtesy of The Weinstein Company, who also invited me to a preview screening of the Road Show Version with the overture, intermission and added footage. This review is based on that cut, but it was shown in digital projection.
It’s difficult to compare the retro-inspired Quentin Tarantino to any standard but the one he sets for himself with his own filmography. His latest film, Django Unchained, stands up well as a modern mash up of the Spaghetti Western and Blaxploitation cinema. It mines the past of cinema history while bringing something new to the mix through Tarantino’s indulgence in meandering but purposeful and always entertaining dialogue. That said, already the inclination arises to consider this film against the many iconic movies the director has produced in his 20-year career. This latest entry probably falls most into the quality of Kill Bill for its sheer indulgence of length and its theme of vengeance. There lies both its faults and merits.
It’s a well-constructed, if extra-long, film building up toward an over-indulgent climax with a push-pull tension between humor and violence. Tarantino’s retro winks begin immediately with a vintage Columbia Pictures logo leader, and then the title track from the original Django film (Sergio Corbucci, 1966) that influenced the film only in name and style. As usual, Tarantino’s soundtrack throughout is well-inspired when it sticks to the era influences of the spaghetti western (Ennio Morricone appears more than once) and the 70s era that film genre flourished in (a sly choice in Jim Croce’s tune “I Got a Name”). When it diverts to modern hip-hop it feels like a stretch, however, and disturbs the film’s vintage quality, even if a track samples James Brown.
During the romantic, dreamy swing of guitars and strings and the soaring cool vocals of the Roberto Fia-sung title track, a chain gang of slaves cross hostile lands of blazing sun and drizzling snow in meager clothing. The group shuffles behind a pair of slave traders on horses. It’s almost a sick sort of dance sequence, and brilliantly establishes Tarantino’s notion to exploit the horrific elements of the end of the slave-era in the United States. The irony of this delightful song, which oozes 1960s-kitsch, comes across in the juxtaposition of the suffering of these men.
The film follows a freed slave, the titular Django (Jamie Foxx), and Dr. King Schultz (Christoph Waltz) the bounty hunter who emancipates him and takes him under his wing. The action unfolds in 1858 (“two years before the Civil War,” as an intertitle in the film points out) as the pair travels from Texas to Mississippi. Their relationship begins as something practical and blossoms into something far more idealistic. Django wants to find his wife Broomhilde (Kerry Washington) and Schultz cannot help but fall enraptured by the parallels to the ancient German myth from the Nibelung Saga in Django’s quest (Broomhilde was the name of a princess in the tale in need of rescue from a dragon).
As demonstrated by the film’s own comparison to a myth dating back to Norse lore, the hero venturing to rescue the damsel is nothing new. But for the slavery-hating German character of Schultz, the opportunity to watch the definitive fairy tale of his beloved nation acted out by black slaves, one of which actually learned German during her servitude, seems irresistible. His drive to help Django just to experience the myth by proxy comes from a far more romantic place than even Django’s drive. Django wants his wife back, Schultz helps him for the sake of myth! Schultz is the film’s poetry and soul and when he falls out of the story, the film seems to sag as far as stakes go. Tarantino appearing in a cameo with a bad Australian accent adds an exclamation point to just how weak and uninvestable the rest of the film is, as it charges toward a literally explosive finale.
Of course, as the title reveals, this is not a film about the good Dr. King. However, Waltz steals the show, delighting in every inflection of the Tarantino script. His erudite delivery of Tarantino’s mannered language in his crisp German accent makes him appear as not only the smartest of the bunch but the most noble. It’s a wonderful turn away from Waltz’s Oscar-winning performance as the equally mannered though greedy, “Jew-hunting” Nazi in Tarantino’s amazing prior film Inglourious Basterds. The fundamental difference between Schultz and everyone else in Django Unchained is how far he goes to act on principle, always staying true to his romantic reasoning while acting like a psychopath— a lethal bounty hunter with a heart of gold. It’s a brilliant character and Waltz embraces his role, dialogue and all, with effortless panache.
The irony in watching this character chew up the scenery is that he upstages the title character who Foxx can only seem to play as cool and distant … and sometimes befuddled. Often, Django seems in over his head during his adventures with his mentor. Whether it’s making the most of his freedom to pick his own wardrobe or fighting for respect from other men as a freed man. It would have been nice to have a more fleshed out character in Django, but this was an oppressed man in oppressive times. That he must lay waste to everything in sight to be a hero becomes a bit of a cop-out, for the battle for true freedom looms as a long road that to this day has not reached its endpoint.
Problems with the story aside, Django Unchained feels like a comprehensive, albeit cartoonish, experience of the end of the slave-years in American history. Tarantino stays true to an era when a black man was never even allowed to ride horseback. Helpless violence is dealt unto black slaves with cruelty, from their position in shackles to whippings to even the abuse of the N-word, which has become verboten in today’s post-PC-age, but has long made liberal appearances in Tarantino movies. Never mind that people of Tarantino’s age grew up in the pre-PC age where elementary school teachers threw about the word during history lessons on the Underground Railroad. It was a part of history, and history’s lessons become useless if we forget them. Today, watching a film of violence populated by characters who hate the Other with such entitlement magnifies the potency of the word, and its violence is made apparent throughout this film.
Some of the most unapologetic abusers of the word in Django Unchained include the plantation owner Big Daddy (a suave, scene-stealing Don Johnson), Mandingo fighting connoisseur Calvin Candie (Leonardo DiCaprio, playing high-strung and short-fused) and his bitter but sly (and there’s not soft-shoeing around this one) “house nigger” Stephen (Samuel L. Jackson). But the crux of the film seems to be that those who do not know how to respect their fellow man, no matter the color of their skin, will ultimately get their comeuppance.
With Django Unchained Tarantino knows how to stay true to the era as well as the weight of its social inequalities on a character like Django, despite the film’s often over-the-top tone. The Spaghetti western and, even more so, Blaxploitation, were powerful bursts of sex and violence in an era when cinema rebelled against the oppressive rules of self-censoring imposed by the Hays Code. Tarantino is well known to delight in violence inspired by early 1970s cinema, but also has a strong ear for characters and even their subtleties, or— better put— details. It’s interesting to watch Tarantino work with both humor and horror to address things like the class system among not only slaves and their owners, but the levels of class within slavery, which brilliantly comes to light when Django and Schultz get to know Mr. Candie and his plantation. Despite the inevitable blood bath by the vengeful Django, the film has more than violence at its heart.
Django Unchained runs 165 min. and is Rated R for many good reasons. It opens Tuesday, Dec. 25, in most theaters. The Weinstein Company invited me to a preview screening for the purpose of this review. A few indie cinemas in the Miami area are also getting in on the action. It will make a first-run appearance at the Tower Theater in Miami with Spanish subtitles. Later that week, the Miami Beach Cinematheque will host screenings of the digitally-restored original Django, starting Friday, Dec. 28. Here’s the trailer for that film:
(Copyright 2012 by Hans Morgenstern. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed without permission.)
December 12, 2012
It’s been a while since a true vinyl record review has appeared on this blog, and what better time to start an ongoing series on Independent Ethos than … whenever (or when you, dear reader, might just be sick of all the year-end lists?). I own many albums collected over my 20 years of writing about music that I believe still hold up to this day (and there have been many purges over the years). Since I began writing about music in the early nineties as a freelance music journalist, many albums came out that I regret never having had the opportunity to review. Some I discovered much later, others I just never wrote about but still continue to give me listening pleasure, never going out of style in their timeless quality. These are records I would consider both touchstones of a certain era but that also exist beyond their time and should be considered classics.
One musical movement born in the early nineties that still continues to this day is post-rock (see my review for Mogwai’s last album). Fusing elements as diverse as jazz, electronic, rock and even hardcore, this mostly instrumental form of music was one of the few true original movements that defied simple pigeonholing during that decade. When music critics began banding about the term— short for postmodern rock— it even ruffled the feathers of some of the low-key pioneers of the genre. They preferred anonymity to stage presence. They started no fashion trends (flannel? Screw that, T-shirts and cargo shorts do fine). They had minimal lighting on stage and never encouraged audience participation. In fact, their music was anti-audience-friendly. The bands often took odd left turns in their music, exploring intense dynamics that sometimes forced the listener to reach for the volume knob, to either raise it for a closer listen to the more hushed passages or lower it during the more intense moments that could pounce with little warning.
One album in particular marked the height of the post-rock scene: Tortoise’s 1996 album Millions Now Living Will Never Die released by Chicago’s Thrill Jockey Records (Support the Independent Ethos, buy the vinyl on Amazon.com). I stumbled across a vinyl copy at my local indie record haunt, Sweat Records, at a great price. $25? Better than I thought I would ever make out paying for this record now long out of print. It was only the Chicago-based outfit’s second full-length release, but it has come to epitomize the post-rock sound. When I first bought the CD version of this album soon after its release, it was while following the influences of Stereolab, whose key members (Tim Gane, Laetitia Sadier and Mary Hansen) were featured on the acknowledgements page but otherwise had little presence on the album:
Stereolab had appeared on the scene during the revival of fifties and sixties Bachelor Pad style, or “lounge,” music, which is probably best recognized today in the style and ambiance of the “Mad Men” television series. The London-based band released an EP in 1993 entitled The Groop Played “Space Age Batchelor Pad Music” on their own UK-based label Duophonic Records (Support the Independent Ethos, buy the vinyl reissue on Amazon.com). Despite jazz influences like Martin Denny, Stereolab also heavily incorporated noisy elements of Krautrock. The record is probably best compared to the droning sounds of bands like Faust and Neu!, despite the title’s sly reference to the music of Denny and Juan Garcia Esquivel*. The electronic burbles of the Moog synthesizer and the presence of analog keyboards like the Farfisa also figure heavily on the EP. That same year, Tortoise released its debut EP “Mosquito” on Torsion Music (see the Tortoise discography). However, to my delight, Tortoise were indeed another animal from Stereolab. There was a mutual DNA in the abstract, noisy influences of the guitar-based bands of Krautrock. Often regarded as the band’s figurehead, Tortoise drummer and producer John McEntire would later produce several of Stereolab’s future works.
Though McEntire, a classically trained percussionist, often received credit as the band’s leader (maybe because the credits on Millions begins with his name as producer), the band began with bassist Douglas McCombs, who played in Eleventh Dream Day before Tortoise, and multi-instrumentalist/drummer John Herndon, formerly of the Poster Children. I was a fan of those two bands at the time, as well, but their albums of that era sound dated in comparison to the otherworldly groove and din of Millions Now Living Will Never Die. The collaboration of McCombs and Herndon started the seeds that would form Tortoise, which began as a studio experiment. McEntire came in soon after, along with guitarist Bundy K. Brown after meeting while working with David Grubbs in Bastro (Grubbs and McEntire would continue working together in Gastr del Sol, when that band’s songwriting took a more atmospheric and experimental turn, creating amazing music of the era in its own right). But Brown departed after Tortoise’s self-titled debut album. Slint bassist and acclaimed multi-instrumentalist in his own right David Pajo stepped in to replace Brown. Finally, forming the core group that recorded this album, is percussionist Dan Bitney who found himself in the band in its early beginnings after the hardcore band Tar Babies broke up (see Tortoise’s bio on the All Music Guide).
I have recently been playing Millions Now Living Will Never Die on my turntable, a luxury that was not available to me in my college years, and this vinyl sample I found at Sweat has proved an amazing revelation. Despite having some worn corners to the jacket, the vinyl inside sounds near pristine. It came complete with the insert featuring the track-listing and acknowledgements shown above. Most importantly, however, it offers a super clean sound. Besides, finding this years-old release with worn corners is inevitable, as the jacket is made from a very soft cardboard material, unique to the release, a material I have otherwise not seen used on LP jackets. If you have the CD, it’s the same soft, flimsy stuff.
Speaking of the cover art, the swirling silver fish on a duo-toned blue background offers an appropriate visual representation of the majestic soundscapes inside. The album evokes not only wide spaces but depths that capture some of the more sublime aspects of the Tortoise sound. Like the band’s self-titled debut, which had some mumbled words on one track, this album only has one track with barely discernible human voices. It’s all about abstraction. The only thing evocative of intelligible language are the track titles**.
The album opens with the daring, 21-minute “Djed” (pronounce “Jed,” as some of the band members once told me), a track that seems to come up and out of the profundity of the ocean. A dark throbbing bass, accompanied by the churning, almost muffled explosive sounds of a super-reverbed stick beat kicks off the piece. A subtle vibraphone accompanies the bass-driven melody. The wash of effects and reverb that affect the music makes it feel as though the music exists in a weightless space, like the currents that travel through, over and under one another throughout the expanse of the ocean. About two minutes in, electronics whistle and crunch, as organs swell from the depths of the din to overtake the piece, and a decidedly brighter and warmer feel takes over. It’s almost a comforting relief from the dense beginning of the track.
As luscious organ hums fill the track, about three minutes in, a true drum kit appears to propel the piece along, as the bass, more felt than heard, is joined by the low melody of a guitar that seems to offer a syncopated contrast to the drum bashing. The bass throbs below the mix of organs, on a mechanical drumbeat that owes its debt to Krautrock stalwarts Neu! Layers of different melodies wander into slight solos, but always return to a uniform groove, as the track continues. For Tortoise, even melodious instruments can take on the rhythmic properties of drums. Meanwhile, beats can morph into melodies. It can sound busy, but the repetitious drones of the passages will catch the close listener by surprise. The music constantly intrigues, always offering layer upon layer of abstract musicality, as the instrumental trots along offering various transformations in tone.
As instruments fall away at about the 10-minute mark, a hyper metallic pulse that seems spawned on a digital device fades in. There’s a buzz and the first beat seems to go dead, and a second beat phases the track into a slower pace. Marimba rumble in the almost inaudible distance (thank you vinyl and Bose headphones for the tiny detail that I otherwise never noticed). An analog organ offers a luscious, slow, churning melody, as a muffled, watery, reverb-effected guitar offers a rhythmic hook. More melodies are spread over the rhythmic melody as rapid marimba, vibes and bells are offered one layer after another. Again, the band explores tonal shifts in rhythms. A fit here, a squeeze there, a return to rhythm, until, at just before the 14-minute mark, during what sounds like the split-second collapse of a chord, something unsettling and completely out of the realm of instruments happens. It almost sounds like the skipping sounds of a CD (a technique later highly influential in the world of “glitch” music). The sudden, jarring deconstruction of the music pushes out all the melody to only leave struggling pulses and throbs that quiver and rumble, shaking off layers of luscious muck.
The rumbles and squishy electronics continue and fade in and out as an ominous hum ebbs and retreats in what seems a calm undercurrent. Electronics zip and oscillate over the din, as the marimba return, fading in at around the 17-minute mark. They seem to hammer away at the din in a glorious calm of melody that brings to mind the great use of marimba by Stewart Copeland on the Rumble Fish soundtrack.*** The marimba fades away as a high-pitched, flat, slurred honking organ fades up, echoing the marimba melody. Meanwhile, the squishy electronic-affected rhythm swells then disappears to make way for another tonal shift, about a minute and a half later. The section comes to a rattling end. It makes way for a dragging, patient rhythm, and up from the ether bubbles up a melody the hums and buzzes like cables in the wind, offering the piece’s memorable refrain. This section of the “Djed” refrain is extraordinarily spaced out and almost unrecognizable. It sounds like pulses and throbs for the most part, but there is much hidden melody, as if it’s occurring in the waves on some distant horizon. There are calls and responses among these electrified melodies, sparking and echoing off one another as if they are distant, slow-moving lightning strikes, like “St. Elmo’s fire spitting ions in the ether.” And so ends Side 1, offering an incredible journey into the expansive possibilities of instrumentation few musicians dare explore with so much rhythm and melody but also frayed noise and chaos.
Here’s some bonus, watch the band re-create the piece in a video recorded on July 8, 2009, at KCRW’s studios for its ”Morning Becomes Eclectic” show:
The second side of Millions Now Living Will Never Die almost feels anticlimactic in comparison to “Djed.” However, even though these five shorter instrumental pieces that use similar instrumentation may feel tempered by comparison, they should not to be underestimated. The vinyl brings out the acoustic instrumentation of the first track on Side 2, “Glass Museum,” much better than I have ever heard on CD. That also means one can hear the electronic guitars crunching much crisper than on the CD. The piece begins slow and meandering, growing hushed to allow the distant swell and ebb of what sounds like a synthesizer, or maybe some warped string instrument, to howl high-pitched chords underneath the languorous guitars, sluggish drums and luscious vibes, which offer a celestial, skipping melody. Despite all that activity, what gives the piece its shiny glaze is that hum of the subtle high-pitched howl of a chord, which may not even be a synth or a string instrument but the slow exhale and inhale of a melodica, an instrument I have seen the band incorporate live. The wonderful mysterious quality of that decorative sound from an almost subliminal instrument is key to this track.
At around the two-minute mark the vibes and percussion pause for some other distant creature to hum and hoot from what sounds like a distance, while the guitar is calming strummed. Before you are given a chance to figure out what that is, the song returns with the drifting marimba and guitar. Like “Djed,” this track also has the feel of the ocean, and stirs up into a storm of noise about halfway through as congas and marimba pile up and drive the piece on a frenetic impressive shift in tone as an electric guitar crunches along. But this explosion of frenzy soon comes to a grinding halt, with on last, exhausting crunch of the electric guitar. The shift is handled gorgeously as the section melts back into the calm it opened with: a sparkling marimba melody with the contrast of a buzzing synth for a few more refrains, until the piece comes to a reverberating stop.
You can hear the track for yourself (for the time being) with this YouTube clip, still you may be hard pressed to truly hear the subtle luscious quality of the array of instrumentation that come out so clear and colorful on the vinyl:
The next track, “a Survey,” feels more atmospheric. The piece is coated by the sound of crickets, as a rhythmically strummed bass offers the bottom to the quiet interplay of a sporadically licked guitar. The two stringed instruments play a sort of call and response between two channels. The strings seem to also release a metallic hum that drones along underneath the track. It carries on for less than three minutes until it simply fades away.
The third track on side 2, “the Taut and the Tame,” features a whipping beat with a sharp edge and also features the low-end, characteristic guitar work and accompanying marimba that seem to exemplify this album’s signature sound. The drums are inhumanly kinetic and sometimes seem to fray with electronic effects but never give way to full electronics, like so much of the music did back in the day of the album’s release, as house and breakbeat rave music seemed to have been petering out around that time.
The fourth track, “Dear Grandma and Grandpa,” finally seems to feature a voice, but it’s a young girl’s voice, seemingly coming from a distant dimension and another time, from somewhere unknown, as electronics lethargically pulse, hum and waver through the speakers. A man’s voice responds in an almost sing-song quality. All the while, electronics continue to pulse along and shimmer with shifting variety. It remains rhythmic yet chaotic but so hushed and relaxed that it never grows annoying. The distorted trill of a flute can be heard in the background, from what might be an old television set. It fades away and the bass offers one final, dreary melody with languorous drum and cymbal accompaniment. Here begins “Along the Banks of Rivers.” The track’s cool quality is brilliantly set up by the hushed cacophony of “Dear Grandma and Grandpa.” This track almost recalls the music of Ennio Morricone. Beyond the atmospheric hum of some organs, this is the most traditional of all the instrumentals on Millions Now Living Will Never Die, and makes a perfect album closer. If a sunset over the ocean needed a soundtrack, this piece would offer the best accompaniment.
Millions stands the test as not only a fine example of post rock but the art album that spawns vivid imagery and creates luscious atmosphere. The musicians gel amazingly together, and a testament to that is the fact the band still exists, despite line up shifts, to release an album here and there, though all the members have other groups to occupy their time. Tortoise has since evolved to create albums that swing more concretely while also relying on electronics more than ever. But this album remains a true favorite. The analog quality of the instrumentation is downright primitive compared with today’s standards, but the fact the album sounds so vital will always stand as a tribute to the creative minds behind the instrumentation.
Up-date: Thrill Jockey reissued Milions Now Living Will Never Die on vinyl earlier this year, as part of its 20th anniversary, but it has already gone out of print. Other Tortoise albums remain in-print, however, including its masterful follow-up TNT as well as several long-out-of-print 90s-era Sea and Cake albums, McEntire’s other band. For those in Miami, Sweat Records received a shipment of these reissues and more just in time for this post (like them on Facebook).
If you live in Tortoise’s hometown of Chicago, Tortoise, the Sea and Cake as well as Man Forever will perform a free show on Dec. 20 (details here).
*I had a chance to interview Esquivel for a lengthy profile piece in the record collector’s magazine, “Goldmine.” He had heard Stereolab’s EP but was quite perplexed with comparisons, as Stereolab were probably most influenced by the sounds of Krautrock, at least during that more noisy, droney period of their sound, which has since evolved to a more effervescent, poppy sound.
**I once interviewed Tortoise guitarist Jeff Parker (he came in during the recording of the band’s third album, TNT) and Herndon. They explained they pull their track titles from whatever they might be reading. When they see phrases that interest them, they note them as possible titles.
***During my interview with them, Parker and Herndon both said they were fans of the Rumble Fish soundtrack. That interview might appear on this blog at some point. If it does, I will update this post with a link.