Tuesday, March 1, 2011

A Special Pair: Minus the Bear and Tortoise

Recently, I have noticed that I generally don’t delve as deeply into the catalogs of artists as I used to.  I remember becoming rabidly obsessed with collecting all the albums by bands I was enthusiastic about, but I am a little more cautious about that these days.  When I really sink my teeth into an album and connect with it, I often stop there.

I have two albums that fall into this category that I am keen to recommend.  In both cases, I was pretty unfamiliar with the group, and got the album with little more than a recommendation myself.  I have been revisiting them this week, and they are proving themselves again to be recordings that really speak to me.  They are, however, the only albums I have from each artist’s respective catalog.

I got Tortoise’s “It’s All Around You” for at least four or five years ago, and every time I break it out, it’s a rewarding and sometimes emotional experience.  Like the bulk of Tortoise’s work, it’s all instrumental, so if you are a lyrics person, it might not be for you.  Regardless, it still has the capacity to emote.  It’s all very epic and grandiose, but at the same time it has a personal and intimate aspect, as if it captures the awe and diversity of nature itself (that's perhaps a little overwrought – sorry!).  My renewed interest in “It’s All Around You” came when I recently discovered this great live video of “The Lithium Shifts” (misspelled in the clip).  Give it a minute to rev up.  Again, having an idea of how they perform this song enriched the overall listening experience for me.

Tortoise has been around for awhile, and their entire catalog generally tends to get positive reviews, but I find myself apprehensive about getting another of their albums.  To me “It’s All Around You” seems like a really special recording, and I almost feel like that if there is another one as good as this one, it would somehow make it……less special?

My second recommendation is in a more accessible style.  Minus the Bear was recommended to me several years ago, although I just got “Omni” just last year from, of all places, a Target shelf.  Minus the Bear’s clever use of melody and overall musicianship immediately hooked me.  They are a band in the classic sense, in which each musician is eminently important to the overall sound of the group.  Their tunes are catchy and complex enough to be rewarding in the long term, as well.  Additionally, I am not so much a “lyrics guy.”  I don’t like it when lyrics are dumb, but I can get by when they don’t get in the way of the song.  Minus the Bear’s lyrics, however, take a very vivid storytelling approach that is both clever and evocative.  I never get tired of this one:

Like Tortoise, Minus the Bear gets high recommendations, but I am also apprehensive about getting deeper into their catalog.  In addition to being a pretty special album itself, “Omni” is also the latest entry in Minus the Bear’s catalog.  Going backwards through a catalog, especially when the introduction to a band is sooo great, is sometimes disappointing.

So basically, I'm just being stubborn.  Perhaps it is time to delve deeper into these bands.  If anyone has recommendations as to the “next step” for Tortoise or Minus the Bear, I'm all ears.  If you have not heard either of these bands and you dig either of these clips, though, I wholeheartedly suggest starting with “Its All Around You” and “Omni.”

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