Tortoise – [Album]

Saturday, 06 June 2009

Sometimes a good, extended break is just what a band needs to recharge and, while none of Tortoise's members sat idle in the five years between the release of It's All Around You and Beacons Of Ancestorship (side projects abounded including work with The Sea And Cake,  Exploding Star Orchestra and  Azita Youssefi to name just a few), there's no arguing that the band has returned fresh, potent and virile on Beacons Of Ancestorship. The band doesn't waste a minute snapping its audience to attention with the ear-splitting and anthemic synth wash and sidewalkin' cool beat that opens “High Class Slim Came Floatin' In” either and, as that hypnotic joint fades, the spell is cast and those fans that waited so long for their next fix are already caught enthralled; the band could have put out a one-track single and had listeners reaching to play it again until the needle wore through the vinyl with that song, but they're just getting started.

The vibes keep flowing through “Prepare Your Coffin,” “Northern Something” and “Gigantes” and the keeps digging into euphoria with them, but something is very different here and as the record progresses, it opens up to reveal itself. As it turns out, Toroise's vaunted affection for soul music and the band's original ambition to cast itself as a freelance rhythm section for hire wasn't just a lip service ploy to paint themselves in a different light from the rest of the Chicago music scene; as the record plays out, several vamps and motifs similar to those on Leon Huff's Here To Create Music present themselves and illustrate not only the fact that the band's purported affinities are genuine, but that the band also has the chops to pull such an endeavor off.

Saying that isn't designed to imply that Beacons Of Ancestorship is mawkish or derivative, only that it's very reasonable to assume that it was the base of operations that Tortoise occupied while making this record. As it progresses along, the band also annexes the houses of indie rock (to greatest effect on “Yinxiangheckengqi”) and even musique concrete (“The Fall Of Seven Diamonds Plus One”) and incorporates them seamlessly into Tortoise's existing blend of instrumental hip hop, jazz, electronica and ambient glitch and creates an all-new, intoxicating brew – sort of like standing on the corner of club district on the busiest night of the year – in the process.

Unlike so many other instrumental acts that have attempted to pull such rich, angular structures together recently (Herbaliser could have only hoped to do something this solid before, but they “sold out” and got a singer – thus taking them out of the running entirely), on Beacons Of Ancestorship Tortoise makes it all feel like the simplest, easiest transition in the world to reconvene and release something so universal and (without attempting to gush) beautiful. The structures and textures in place on this album are remarkably complicated and imposing but, here, Tortoise carries it off with such facility that it becomes incredibly infectious. Such a claim might sound like overbearing, over-compensating praise to the uninitiated, but those non-believers are invited to put this record on and try to deny it.


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“Prepare Your Coffin” from Beacons Of Ancestorship by Tortoise


Beacons Of Ancestorship
comes out June 23 on Thrill Jockey Records. Pre-order it here on Amazon .

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