Tortoise started the year as flavours of the months, with a frenzy of expectation over their ‘TNT’ LP. It duly arrived, and by all accounts, people were less than impressed. I have to admit that it played a lot around here when it came out but I’m buggered if I can remember what any the tracks sound like now. Not that that should be a great problem, indeed maybe it’s to their credit that they can have made a record so consummately at ease with it’s role as background soundtrack for fashionable twenty and thirty somethings. As if to cement this idea, they have a track from their debut LP used on the new Calvin Klein ad. Whatever, there remains something inherently intriguing about the entire Tortoise manner that makes it impossible to dismiss them out of hand, and for sure if the smoother production values on ‘TNT’ made for a just too easy listening experience, then their willingness to try new approaches will always ensure a lively and unpredictable future. Forthcoming in next months will be remix 12"s, featuring house maestro Derrick Carter and techno favourites Autechre. Both should be fascinating projects.

Thrill Jockey and City Slang label mates Trans Am released their third LP this year too. The Surveillance tapped into a common end of the century paranoia and delivered some marvellous moments. As with the previous Trans Am recordings however, this left me in a split state. I remain totally unconvinced by their self-avowed intentions to be a ROCK band, and their guitar powered moments still leave me cold and reaching for the skip button. Far more interesting are their electronic meddlings, of which ‘Access Control’, the gurgling ‘Endgame’ and screeching ‘E.S.I.’ here stand out. They do, however, show an increasing interest in bringing together their two personalities, and it’s on the grooving ‘Home Security’ that Trans Am really show where their future should lie. Thrill Jockey has built up some reputation in the past few years, and as Kevin will tell you, it has lot to commend itself to you. Sad then to report that they appear to have lost the plot somewhat with the release of Sue Garner’s To Run More Smoothly. On paper this should be a great record, what with Chris Stamey of the dBs, Yo La Tengo’s Georgia Hubley and saxophonist Phillip Johnstone on board, but in the flesh it just doesn’t add up to the total it should have. Mostly mediocre alternative rock, it just doesn’t hold the attention for long, even if there’s a neat cat illustration on the label. Hit the skip button again.
Much better, and on Quaterstick / City Slang is The Black Light by Calexico, who are effectively the Giant Sand rhythm section, with assorted friends and acquaintances along for the ride. And the ride is cool, being a Lynchian trawl through New Mexican desert landscape which is just as you would expect, given the Giant Sand connection. Pedal steels twang, and you can almost taste the jalapenos. Back street bar room cowboy blues par excellence. Calexico should be in the UK to play dates with the always entertaining Lambchop later in the year, so be sure to look out for that.