The first new Tortoise album in a nigh-on seven years! The officially legendary post-rock (in the original, interesting sense of the term) group have convened to produce an inventive melange of sonic approaches: first single Gesceap is a pulsing piece led by minimal-but-melodic synths. All bodes well. On Thrill Jockey.
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If you listen to ‘Beacons of Ancestorship’ now, with your older, sillier and less expectant ears, I think you’ll find it Tortoise’s most delightful album: full of poor jokes about dubstep, prog jams and gooey synth ballads, the band’s last album is one of post-rock’s only romps, and I’m grateful to it for that. You wouldn’t think following up an album that sketchy would be hard -- or that it’d be hard for Tortoise, a band who primarily fuck about, to follow up an album at all -- but ‘The Catastrophist’ has been seven years in the making, and rather than overhaul the band’s sound in full, it sees the band continue to jam, albeit slighter, blissfully unaware of the chasm they’ve opened in their catalog.
There are some surprises, as is custom for Tortoise, so let’s cut to the chase: they wink to us on “Rock On”, a David Essex cover that superstar fan Ian claims “ruins” the record’s momentum. I’m inclined to disagree, since it’d be hard to accuse Tortoise of ever structuring their records for our listening pleasure: rather, this dubified and localised cover of his tune is a strange but expected bump in a road that’s never been maintained. It features Todd Rittman carelessly huffing and puffing vocals over the band’s sparkly and brassy instrumental, plus harmonies, before Tortoise pull a Classic Tortoise: they get bored of their little joke, realise the laughs have been had, and fade it out. Later, Yo La Tengo drummer Georgia Hubley makes a welcome appearance, humming over the innately chill and very underwater guitar melody of “Yonder Blue”. As a member of the YLT contingent, Hubley is the kind of artist who immediately settles the mood regardless, and so her sudden appearance does nothing but relax the record.
The rest of it is a Tortoise album. It has some stupid moments, like the maddeningly catchy fart-synth melodies of “Gopher Island”, and some wonderful experiments that feel like the band went into them knowing the answer: “Shake Hands With Danger” matches delicate chimes with a brazen, sluggish drumbeat, matching them with a fiery old-school guitar riff -- it sounds like church rocking on the day of rapture. The band continue to locate and then dislocate sounds for your personal confoundment: “Tesseract” betrays its waltzy opening chord for a rhythmic fumble reminiscent of Jaga Jazzist.
As always, I’m glad that Tortoise are having fun, playing musical chairs with post-rock and coming out with a 70:30 win ratio. All I ask is that they compete.
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