The Brave and the Bold
So it's been almost three months since I posted
about the Tortoise/Bonnie "Prince" Billy collaboration, and in that time it was finally released on Chicago's fine Overcoat
label. I, of course, got it as soon as it was released and listened to it pretty much non-stop for a few days. My intital reaction is that whoever decided it was a good idea to use the unacquitably horrible Umbra
font for the album text should be immediately fired from all future layout activities. The rest of the packaging is nicely minimal, but that godawful Umbra makes me want to gouge my eyeballs out. But enough on typography, on to the music itself.
I've never spend enough time with either Tortoise (once upon a time I had a copy of Millions Now Living Will Never Die
, but it got lost years ago) or the various Will Oldham incarnations (a deficiency I plan on rectifying in 2006), so I can't really comment that much on either's back story and how this album fits in in either's voluminous catalog. What I do know is that The Brave and the Bold
is remarkably hit or miss; the good songs are fantastic, and the bad songs are ponderous at best, and the album vacillates between the two basically every other song. In short, the odd numbers win by a long shot. All of the even numbered songs are langorous, lugubrious, viscous masses of sound that display all the pretensions of Tortoise's post-rock roots. "Thunder Road" is an especially curious, recasting the song as an ominous, imposing dirge, with Oldham's vocals sounding especially pained. Very bizarre. But the even numbered tunes (Milton Nasciamento's "Cravo e Canela," the Minutemen's "It's Expected I'm Gone," Lungfish's "Love is Love," Devo's "That's Pep!" and Richard Thompson's "Cavalry Cross") each show a different side of this pairing. "Cavalry Cross" is essentially the opposite of "Thunder Road," a brittle, gorgeous version that doesn't try to clutter up the inherent beauty of the original. It's probably also worth noting that Oldham sounds very similar to recent Thurston Moore on this track. I've talked about "That's Pep" already, and it continues to be my favorite song of the minute. "It's Expected I'm Gone" is very much in the same vein as "That's Pep," a straight up rocker that has enough space for Tortoise to imbue it with their own signature.
This album proves one thing to me: that Tortoise would make on hell of a rock band. Forget this post-rock bullshit; give them a regular vocalist and they would make the best backing band in the world, provided they don't get bogged down in overly complicated structures or ideas. They're incredible musicians with a great conception of how to manufacture aural spaces (perhaps that's why they float above the rest of the post-rock they spawned), even within the confines of someone else's songs.