I was first introduced to Tortoise in my impressionable early high school years, when I was only just discovering the world of indie music. The first thing I bought by them was the “Why We Fight” / “Whitewater” 7-incher, and I have to tell you, it took me a bit to understand what this music was and why there were doing it. It certainly didn’t sound like Pearl Jam!
Millions came out in 1996, a few years after I bought that single, and I think it was “Glass Museum” that convinced me this band was truly special. I eventually bought it, and the rest is of course history. It’s just glorious, the band’s finest hour (though TNT and Tortoise are both great too), and it’s up first for the track-by-track treatment...
- Djed: What a track. It’s really 3 or 4, right? But isn’t “Djed” the greatest post-rock track of all time? What could possibly contend with it? It was basically like Tortoise was saying: “Dear Future…we invented this genre, and will always be the kings of it.” It’s just an endlessly fascinating series of soundscapes, from the opening krautrock-ish groove to the quiet half-time bridge all the way through to the chorus of vibraphones that close it out. This is instrumental music with a vision. “Djed” could have easily been bombastic, but instead, it’s 20+ minutes of pure brilliance.
- Glass Museum: This was the track where my 16 year old self finally *got* Tortoise. It's a doorway into a slow-motion, alternate reality of pure contemplative beauty, calling to mind crystalline cities but generating enough serpentine tension to elicit a vague narrative. Maybe museum-rock?
- A Survey: The strange interlude in the middle of "Glass Museum" admits a brief, unexpected darkness to the world of Millions, and it's almost like "A Survey" is the cautious exploration of that region. Despite all the wonderful beauty of the album's first two tracks, there is a darkness here, deeper down, and Tortoise is out to fathom it.
- The Taut and Tame: Nice jam. "The Taut and Tame" is the least memorable cut on the record, but that's no fault in this case, just the truth. Nevertheless it fits right in, bridging the more obscure tracks that bookend it with something you can sink your teeth into.
- Dear Grandma and Grandpa: Ambient bliss! Reminds me a good bit of “Restless Waters” from the Lounge Axe comp. The brilliance of Millions is Tortoise's consistency at showcasing and artistry in melding a multitude of weird soundscapes, and they manage to do so here, in less than 3 minutes. I could seriously get really into a whole album of tracks like this.
- Along the Banks of the River: Kinda bluesy even! This one has a great tragic feel, or maybe not quite tragic, but somber, and the guitar almost comes off like a voice. A record that began agreeably enough with “Djed” ends by weaving together threads of darkness, fear, paranoia, regret, nostalgia, and loneliness. It’s a fitting epilogue, an intricate web of style and emotions.
All in all, MILLIONS is canon, a record of child-like wonder, and a classic of the art of sound. Why don’t you own it?