Here's a bizarre collaboration between two indie-rock stalwarts who would seem to have little in common outside of their indie-rock stalwartness. Chicago's Tortoise is the reigning champeen of electronic post-rock, while the Louisville-bred Bonnie "Prince" Billy (a.k.a. Will Oldham, a.k.a. Palace) remains largely perceived as a rootsy singer-songwriter type. So what are these guys doing teaming up to cover songs by such disparate artists as Devo, Bruce Springsteen, the Minutemen and -- wait for it -- Elton John? Having some twisted old fun, apparently.
Of course, their idea of fun might be different from yours and mine. The sheer perversity of reducing Springsteen's maniacally high-spirited "Thunder Road" to a creaking synthesizer dirge, effectively outing the Boss's lyrical subtext of hopeless desperation, might seem like a willful act of desecration to some, but for these guys it's just another day in the studio. The same with taking Sir Elton's sunny, ubiquitous "Daniel" and mutating it into a piece of droning electronica that cloaks Oldham's lonely, keening vocal, suggesting what the original might sound like to aliens accidentally dialing it in through all the space junk between here and Alpha Centauri.
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The rest of the disc stays in a similar revisionist vein, with a wall of chugging synths and heavy industrial bass replacing the Minutemen's post-punk guitarism on "It's Expected I'm Gone" and Don Williams's "Pancho"; arranged so it sounds more like the Beatles' "Let It Be." Weird as it sounds on paper, the whole thing goes down pretty smoothly, all told. It's sort of a postmodern experiment posing as what the old folks used to call "mood music." The only real fault I could find with the project was typographical; e.g., the egregious misspelling of Richard Thompson's "Calvary Cross" on the back cover. And I thought this was supposed to be a Christian nation! Scott Faingold