Tiny Fireflies get back together; Tortoise mixes jazz, classical, dub and more
The Space Between
All you had to do was ask; the Chicago duo Tiny Fireflies originated when the two musicians were approached to contribute to the 2010 compilation Between Two Waves, based on the concept of bringing two musicians together to collaborate on a track.
Their collaboration, “Don’t Wait Until I Fall Asleep,” was an irresistible slice of bliss-pop with nods to ‘60s girl-group pop (including the “Be My Baby” drumbeat) and late-’70s post-punk, capturing the vibe of Joy Division’s “Atmosphere.”
The name “Tiny Fireflies” comes from the two members’ respective solo projects; Kristine Capua’s Tiny Microphone offers introverted, reverberating indie-pop with a noisy streak (recommended entry point: “You Disappear” from Home), and Lisle Mitnik’s Fireflies releases bright, starry-eyed dream-pop.
Both Capua and Mitnik were in the band Very Truly Yours before focusing on Tiny Fireflies, which is now proving to be their highest profile project yet, with their debut album The Space Between.
While earlier Tiny Fireflies tracks had a more homemade recording quality, the new album is slick and professional sounding, employing the talents of British producer Ian Catt, known for his work with Saint Etienne and Robert Wratten (of The Field Mice, Trembling Blue Stars).
While Capua’s trademark soft and tender vocals are still there, they are more upfront in the mix, and she seems more comfortable now in the spotlight rather than being a shyly skulking wallflower.
The warm synths and Lisle’s precisely tweaked guitar timbres are never less than pleasant, but sometimes, this writer felt like a few more memorable hooks could have helped to make the tracks distinguish themselves.
The high points appear at the end, with “Alive” and its tribute to the bass line style of New Order’s Peter Hook and the unabashedly anthemic “Youth,” which could easily serve as the theme for some Hollywood teen romance movie.
While The Space Between is the duo’s most assured offering yet, one can’t help but feel a little of the charm of the homemade aesthetic has been lost.
Certain albums have an immediate appeal, while others grow on you, requiring multiple listenings to let the details unfurl and reveal themselves. The Chicago instrumental group Tortoise has made a career with albums in the latter category, combining eclectic sources (jazz, minimalist classical, dub, electronic music) in a way that on paper may sound like wildly diverse endeavors but always ends up with that unmistakable Tortoise style.
It’s always a little off-center; when the pace is spirited, there’s a clean grandeur, and when things are slower, it’s simultaneously smooth and stimulating. Everything sounds deliberate, often with amazing production. Following the 2009 album Beacons of Ancestorship is the new outing The Catastrophist, which offers more fusions and intersections; when listening to it, the notion that the recording studio is an instrument comes to mind.
One track that requires time for it to embed itself within the listener is the enveloping “Ox Duke,” which is best heard on headphones while reclining, to let its counterpoint weave threads into the listening consciousness.
It’s followed by a puzzling cover of “Rock On,” a hit for David Essex in 1973, sung by Todd Rittmann of U.S. Maple; it isn’t a distant, ironic rendition, but it slithers like a semi-creepy unwelcome party crasher. “Gopher Island” is an electronic ditty with a Suicide-esque beatbox drive and tiny slivers of breath samples, but it ends before it’s fully baked.
The album starts to really come together with “Gesceap,” with minimalist keyboard patterns and a gradually mounting drive. The satisfying electro-funk of “Hot Coffee” is followed by the album’s gorgeous highlight, “Yonder Blue,” which was intended for Robert Wyatt to sing, but Georgia Hubley (Yo La Tengo) tackles it nicely with her heartmeltingly sweet voice.
The origins of the album came from a commission from the City of Chicago in 2010 to create a suite of music that highlights local jazz and improvised music; despite that, there is a curious lack of cohesion, making The Catastrophist sound like it could be a rarities/b-sides collection rather than a unified statement.