Sharps & flats

On "In the Fishtank," Tortoise meets the Ex, new prog meets art-noise and boredom meets indifference.


Joe Gross
June 2, 1999 8:00PM (UTC)

Anyone familiar with Blind Faith or the Black Flag/Minutemen LP "Minuteflag" knows that musical team-ups that look great on paper often, well, just kind of look good on paper. This six-song effort by Amerindie progressives Tortoise and Dutch free-range punkers the Ex should be one hell of an EP. The Ex has been plying anarchic art-noise for 20 years, while Tortoise has become one of the most inventive and intermittently compelling American rock bands releasing records in the past six. The Amsterdam label Konkurrent invited Tortoise to record this set, something like a Dutch Peel Session, and Tortoise in turn asked the Ex to collaborate. Together, they wrote and recorded the songs over a period of two days.

That's probably why the tunes on "In the Fishtank" are so half-baked, full of great ideas waiting to be born. What's left is a set of blurts that sound like a hi-fi Ex record with the occasional marimba or melodica squiggle thrown in, like aural graffiti that says "Tortoise was here" in big letters.

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Which is not necessarily a bad thing (especially if you like the Ex); the songs just don't sound like effective collaborations. "The Lawn of the Limp" and the terrific "Central Heating" thunder along like good Ex songs should, as if everyone's amps have about 10 seconds to live before they melt from the heat. "Pooh Song" and "Pleasure as Usual" are a blend of chaos and meandering noodles, the Ex's guitars reined in to the stately, minimal pace and rhythms Tortoise excels at. But in the end, "In the Fishtank" is the sort of record that completists from both teams will want to chalk up as a win, when it's really just a strange little tie.


Joe Gross

Joe Gross is a Washington writer.

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