Ten years ago, I remember going into a music store in the town near where I went to school and seeing a beautifully-printed album called Millions Now Living Will Never Die. At the time, I was friends with some of the fellows who worked at the store, and they knew my tastes fairly well (even though they were rapidly evolving) and recommended that release by a group called Tortoise. I took the disc back to my little dorm room and it blew my mind, so I went back and bought their first album along with a couple 7" records that contained tracks not available anywhere else.
In the past decade, many groups have come and gone that have used Tortoise as musical touchpoints, and many would argue that Tortoise themselves have lost the flair that they showed in their early days (although I would largely argue against that). That said, A Lazarus Taxon is a set of music that's damn near essential. Compiling rare singles from foreign releases, vinyl-only tracks, tour EPs, compilation tracks, remixes, previously unreleased material, and an entire DVD of videos and live performances, it's a career-wide portrait of a band that's smashed apart genres and pulled just about everything off with a rare grace.
Considering there's well over 30 tracks (and that's just the 3CD portion) in the set, talking about all the high points would take pages, as there are gems just about every way you turn. The amazing "Gamera" opens the entire set, and at twelve minutes long still manages to feel like a mini-revelation as dueling guitars play out over some soft drones, a steady bass and beats that propel the piece forward in all the right places. "Whitewater" is one of those tracks that I bought a 7" record for back in the day and despite sounding nothing like what you'd expect from the group, it still stands up today as filtered guitar squirms over dark feedback tones and a steady drum machine beat. It's about as simple as the group gets, but is still highly effective.
Even though it's largely a pile of improvised out-takes, "Cliff Dweller Society" is another charmer as something like six or seven rough sessions are slammed together into a fifteen minute track that somehow works quite well. The third of the three discs is devoted to the long out-of-print Rhythms, Resolutions, & Clusters EP, which was released just after their debut and finds them cracking apart their own songs and pushing them into even more wildly divergent genres, including the instrumental hip-hop sweetness of "Not Quite East Of The Ryan" and the flickering ambience of "Cobwebbed."
The DVD includes a wide variety of footage as well, with a slew of tracks recorded at a show from 1997 in a bit more of a rough manner (that features tracks from their first two discs) as well as more recent material from the Deutches Jazz Festival, the bands blistering inclusion to the "Burn To Shine" series ("Salt The Skies"), a hilarious karaoke rendition of "Seneca" (with the band wearing gorilla masks and playing in front of a kids show audience), and videos that range from decent to outstanding. There's even a poster gallery for the hardcore. Oh yeah, and the boxset includes great photography artwork by Arnold Odermatt and is priced super cheap. It's also supposed to be limited, so you know what to do already...