A Lazarus Taxon
Though they've spent their 12-year career looking forward, Chicago's Tortoise will forever be tied to post-rock: a brief, if pivotal, movement that, as coined in 1994 by critic Simon Reynolds, employed "rock instrumentation for non-rock purposes, using guitars as facilitators of timbres and textures rather than riffs and power chords." Sadly, by putting Tortoise at the center of his fantasy subgenre, Reynolds made the innovators indistinguishable from their many imitators—but now, having titled their first-ever box set, A Lazarus Taxon, after a species that disappears from the fossil record, only to be reborn anew, Tortoise have their revenge. In other words, where post-rock's late-'90s end stamped the group with an expiration date, post-post-rock finds them sounding peerless once again.
If there's a definitive track in the Tortoise catalog, it's "Gamera," side A of an out-of-print 1995 12-inch: 11 minutes long, slow-building, and rich with nuance and cross-pollinated musical forms (folk, funk, krautrock, minimalism), it's the best song they've ever recorded, and it makes the perfect opening to this set. Because while A Lazarus Taxon's three CDs and one DVD don't flow chronologically from there, they're all variations on a similar idea: the percussive, 3:00 a.m. vibes of the "Why We Fight"/"Whitewater" 7-inch; the real-time remix feel of 1998's sibling tracks "Madison Ave." and "Madison Area"; the sympathetic listening shown by the DVD's live performances; the Casey Rice and Autechre remixes that add glitch to Tortoise's vocabulary. Indeed, with the bulk of Lazarus given to remixes (including the whole of 1995's fantastic, out-of-print remix disc Rhythms, Resolutions & Clusters), it becomes clear that Tortoise's legacy will never again be tied to a single era. Like the tracks they lay down, this band will forever be a work in progress. AARON BURGESS
Led by Ann Arbor exile Deniz Tek, Radio Birdman formed in Australia in 1974, but the band's heart was always in the Motor City. Tek's guitar style owed much to the MC5's Fred "Sonic" Smith and the Stooges' Ron Asheton, mixing clipped blues-rock riffs with proto-punk energy, and Aussie vocalist Rob Younger sang with the same sort of sneering bar-band badassitude of Rob Tyner and Iggy Pop.
After two classic albums, Radios Appear and Living Eyes, the band spilt in 1978. But Radio Birdman's spirit lived on in the 1980s due to its influence on the Down Under garage-rock scene led by the Hoodoo Gurus, Lime Spiders, and Celibate Rifles.
In 1996 the band re-formed for the occasional concert, and Sub Pop put out The Essential Radio Birdman (1974–1978) in 2001, which reintroduced the group to the U.S. Now, Radio Birdman's strong, lost-in-time new album, Zeno Beach, will bring the sextet to the U.S. for their first tour.
"We've Come So Far (To Be Here Today)" kicks off Zeno Beach like the preceding 28 years never happened, with Younger's voice still sounding like that of a disgruntled twentysomething. Then it's 12 more songs of raw rock action, from the heavy riffing of "You Just Make It Worse" to the Doors-ian drone of "The Brotherhood of Al Wazah," which evokes "Man with Golden Helmet" from the band's 1977 debut. Though Tek hasn't lived in Michigan for 30-plus years, songs like "Remorseless" and "Found Dead" still have the gray, dingy, hardened quality of a Detroit-area winter. CHRISTOPHER PORTER
Radio Birdman play Fri Sept 1 at El Corazón.
Confuzed Disco: A Retrospective of
Influential electronic dance music of the '80s didn't originate exclusively in cold, industrial regions like Sheffield, England, and Düsseldorf, Germany. Italy was home to several boutique labels that specialized in quirky cuts that tiptoed a fine line between late-period American disco, minimalist funk, and new wave. For every tacky fluke like Baltimora's "Tarzan Boy" that the scene coughed up, there were multiple cuts of note that slipped under the mainstream radar but played a pivotal role in shaping the sound of early U.S. house and techno productions—and many of those underground classics were issued by Italian Records.
Confuzed Disco compiles two discs of Italian's best, augmented by remixes from clued-in contemporary DJ/producers. Underscoring the source material's timeless nature, the new versions segue smoothly between the vintage selections; only a hint of digital crispness betrays that interpretations by Morgan Geist, Munk, Kaos, and Lindstrom & Prins Thomas don't date from 20 years ago. And the originals still stand shoulder to shoulder pad with better known Reagan-era mutant disco jams, even if the only semi-recognizable name here is N.O.I.A. (favorites of the Ersatz Audio crew). Listen to the hall-of-mirrors handclaps and echo-drenched vocals stuttering through "So Evil (Close to the Edge)" by A.I.M.; it sounds like a lost Larry Levan production. And beneath the clunky, English-as-a-Second-Language rapping of "Call Me Mr. Telephone" there bubbles a groove rife with rippling synths, just crying out to be mixed with "Walking on Sunshine" by Rockers Revenge. Not all tasty Italian exports are cheese. KURT B. REIGHLEY