Disc ReviewsTortoise & Bonnie Prince Billy

The Brave and the Bold

Tortoise’s streamlined instrumental post-rock jams are the yin to Bonnie Prince Billy’s rural and lyric-driven yang. It’s only when meeting on the middle ground of covers — spanning Bruce Springsteen to Devo to the Minutemen — that their respective attributes effectively compliment one another.

“Cravo E Canela” is the ice breaker. Will Oldham’s cool harmonizing over Tortoise’s jittery rhythms unveils a sound that is familiar on multiple levels, but when taken in all at once is completely alien. His Spanish vocalizations are a metaphor for this merger of conflicting musical languages. The majority of both groups’ white, middle-class twenty- to thirtysomething listeners have been passively exposed to Spanish since the days of “Sesame Street.” Likewise, Springsteen’s “Thunder Road” and Elton John’s “Daniel” have served as background music in a lifelong soundtrack. They’ve been absorbed while wandering through the grocery and flipping through radio stations on the drive home. But when put under the microscope by these two bastions of indie culture, these songs take on a much more meaningful resonance.

Quix*ot*ic’s “On My Own” and Lungfish’s “Love is Love” bridge a gap that separates a more direct American underground lineage with a timeless sensibility. Elton John next to Mike Watt seems just as awkwardly comfortable as Richard Thompson next to Lungfish. As such, Tortoise and Bonnie Prince Billy make strange but harmonious bed fellows.