Led by John McEntire, also of The Sea and Cake, this Chicago ensemble did much to make all-instrumental “post rock” music prominent, largely because of this much-heralded album. The centerpiece song is the 21-minute opener, “Djed,” which can really be sectioned off into several (7?) different songs. It begins slowly with bass guitar and assorted effects, but the melody picks up and a soothing groove kicks in around the 2:35 mark. Vibraphones, marimbas, keyboards, and synthesizers enter the mix before things eventually slow down (7:00). Here bass guitar again takes over, along with low-key keyboards and quirky synths in the background, but 10+ minutes in there's another abrupt shift as the aforementioned instruments (vibraphones, etc.) again join in on a more upbeat and varied melody. Near the 14-minute mark comes the song's most jarring section, and for days I thought there was a problem with my cd. No, it's simply Tortoise messing about with strange percussive effects, but an enticing ambient melody slowly creeps in among the effects, and the earlier relaxing groove then returns to ensure me that everything is indeed alright. Finally, the song ends somewhat anti-climactically as spare percussion takes over and the song simply fades away into the distance. Though overly long and a little boring at times, "Djed" nevertheless is an endlessly inventive and fascinating tour de force, as you could listen to this song literally thousands of times and still not fully plumb its depths. Elsewhere, my favorite songs here are easily the lush, gorgeous “Glass Museum,” on which former Slint guitarist Dave Pajo makes his presence felt with a beautifully sad, repeating riff (its mid-section has some "Djed"-like grooviness as well), and “Along the Banks of Rivers,” whose alluringly somber atmosphere (again led by Pajo) recalls prime Pink Floyd. However, the rest of the album delivers mostly background music that is much harder to sink my teeth into. For instance, “A Survey” is a short bass guitar showcase on which not much happens, and anything that's going on bubbles just below the surface, while “Dear Grandma and Grandpa” is a short, low-key ambient experiment that likewise comes and goes without leaving a lasting impression. “The Taut and Tame," a propulsive percussion-based song, is better despite having a bit too much down time, though by and large it does get my head bobbing and my toes tapping. Flawed though the song is, it also provides a good representation of the pulsating rhythms that are present throughout the album, which also features layered instrumentation, shifting dynamics, songs within songs, and the integration of many styles (Krautrock, prog, jazz, electronica, ambient, rock) into a whole that is more seamless than one would think possible. Sure, you could argue that Miles Davis and Can were doing similarly challenging stuff 25+ years ago, and that the album's cold sonics and futuristic effects are sometimes distressingly difficult to decipher. However, Millions Now Living Will Never Die at the very least features three superb songs ("Djed," "Glass Museum," "Along the Banks of Rivers") that take up the majority of the album, and the album will surely both baffle and bore, and excite and enlighten, adventurous listeners for many years to come.
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