Album Reviews

Tortoise – Beacons Of Ancestorship

(Thrill Jockey) UK release date: 22 June 2009

There wasn’t anyone else quite like Tortoise when they first appearedback in the early 1990s. Their music and its rich mix of genres, styles andtechniques has subsequently proved to be influential on a whole raft ofexperimental bands to such an extent that they are often referred to as the”godfathers of Post-Rock”.

After five previous full-length releases andvarious other projects including collaborations and remix albums, they nowreturn with Beacons Of Ancestorship, their first all-new material since2004’s It’s All Around You.

Post-Rock is, in fact, the least obvious category into which this musiccan be placed, with only a few parts of Monument Six One Thousand reallyfitting the bill. Much more prevalent are elements of jazz, or evenjazz-funk (High Class Slim Came Floatin’ In, Minors); a sleazy, knowinglycheesy brand of lounge (Prepare Your Coffin, Penumbra, The Fall Of SevenDiamonds); electronica (Northern Something) and, of course, progressive rock(Prepare Your Coffin, Gigantes, Yinxiangechengqi).

It would be doing this album a great disservice, however, were one tosimply play a reductive game of “pin the genre on the track”. What suchdescriptions would leave out would be the remarkable way in which the band,in fact, achieve a masterful sense of coherence, in the midst of all thisgenre-blending.

Often music this seemingly free-form can leave the listenerwith a sense that the artists themselves are unsure where each track, oreach improvised segment, are leading – an unsettling feeling. Here, the endresult, and the confidence of the performance are never in question.

From the super-tight drumming (best exhibited on High Class Slim CameFloatin’ In, Prepare Your Coffin, Yinxianghechengqi, and especially onNorthern Something, where it sounds almost martial) to the synth sounds thatcan be authoritative, and hard, deep to the point ofnear-inaudibility (Gigantes) or enjoyably funky (Prepare Your Coffin), thisis always unquestionably music that knows itself and is intentional and verydeliberate in the journey (albeit sometimes circuitous) upon which it wishesto take the listener.

Lovely little flourishes and segues abound: this is an album that meritsrepeated and concentrated listening. The way that the opening and closingtracks use the same trick of repeating a five- or six-note sequence as ananchor over music that twists and changes in rhythm and tempo, for example;or the hypnotic quality of Gigantes, with its handclaps, squelchy underwatersynths and exotic strings; or the magnificent, unquantifiable sense ofmenace with which Yinxianghechengqi is somehow seamed. One feels that nomatter how many times you hear tracks like Monument Six One Thousand youwill never get a total understanding of its slippy, intertwining,shifting rhythms and melodies.

Godfathers of Post-Rock, then? Much, much more than this, surely, on thisalbum’s evidence alone. Call it the fascinating intersection of jazz,lounge, prog and electro, if you must, but ultimately Tortoiseproduce music of the most valuable and enduring kind – beyond genres andlabels, in a category all of its own.

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More on Tortoise
Tortoise – The Catastrophist
Tortoise – Beacons Of Ancestorship