Tortoise TNTI’m starting the think the late 90’s were the absolute best time for music. Just when obscure music was becoming more popular and just before downloading killed the radio, a wealth of alternative bands were able to thrive in a climate where “alternative” still meant something. Out of that period, we get such landmark recordings as OK Computer, Pinkerton, and my favorite album of all time, In the Aeroplane Over the Sea. Still, these three albums are heavily based around the guitar, a mode of expression that can be brilliant, but I personally find to be overdone at times. Yeah, that statement is a little outlandish, but with the infinite amount of sounds and instruments available (and with modern technology putting them within a .rar’s reach of anyone who can find a torrent of Reason), I find it easy to get bored with albums that rely heavily on any singular instrument. Again, this is just my personal preference. I am in no way implying that The Sunset Tree is any less great of a record just because of the fact that John Darnielle relies heavily on guitar and bass.

That being said, I’ve been listening to Tortoise’s 1998 album TNT for almost twenty hours straight. Finding it’s basis somewhere between acoustic instruments and electronic experimentation, TNT represents the alternative to the alternative, if you will, an album ahead of its time by about three to five years (depending on whether or not you believe Radiohead invented post-rock on Kid A). Running at about an hour in length, Tortoise delivered a record that sprawled across indie-rock, post-rock, jazz, and IDM, yet somehow maintained a consistency that many of the supposed “landmark” alternative rock albums just don’t have (*cough* Nevermind *cough). TNT isn’t so much a collection of songs as it is a collage of sounds, a concise, genre-defying work that succeeds even where it shouldn’t. It’s hard to tell where one song ends and the next begins, but not in a bad way. The songs flow into one another seamlessly, never blinking but always focused.

Tortoise just finished a tour of the midwestern U.S. as well as Europe, so the band is still going strong. Check out TNT and find out why.