RSS feed RSS Twitter Twitter Facebook Facebook 15 Questions 15 Questions

CD Feature/ Tortoise: "Beacons of Ancestorship"

img  Tobias

Some bands have nothing to loose. Whenever Tortoise release a new album, however, it seems as though the well-being and spiritual sanity of the entire independent music community depends on its artistic and commercial success. Their eponymous debut was instantly considered a milestone and follow-up „Millions Now Living Will Never Die“ a genre-spanning classic. „TNT“ and „Standards“, meanwhile, fused the 21st century skeleton of Rock with Electronica, Jazz and the Avantgarde. Their records were seismic indicators of where the scene was moving, their stylistic concoctions the result of whisker-like-extended senses about the emotional state of the underground. Naturally, most of this had quite a lot more to do with a vague desire for a genial and intellectually leading supergroup than reality. Facts were mostly considered disturbances: When the band insisted their penchant for Vibes had nothing to do with their love of Jazz but with the mere fact that it was a cheap instrument at the time, it was mostly regarded as a twisted joke.

The same danger looms on the horizon as the formation prepares for the launch of their sixth full-length in fifteen years. For even though it is still firmly recognisable as a Tortoise-work in terms of concept and sound and again revolves around cleverly arranged and intricately orchestrated miniature suites, it also contains several internal cross-references and is powered by an unfettered enthusiasm some will be tempted to take for irony. Especially so since it seems like a wilful reaction to the criticism bestowed upon mostly unloved predecessor „It's all around you“, which many fans either considered a mere rehash of past glories or outright boring. Especially with regards to the latter, it is hard to believe the same band signs responsible for „Beacons of Ancestorship“. Instead of walking on the crutches of expectations, Tortoise are playing with Dubstep here, diving headlong into Punk, ripping Prog-Rock apart at the seams, imitating the cool and moody sequencing of the Berlin school of Electronics within a band context, conjuring up Sergio Leone's darkest moments and taking their most open and unapologetic shot at the genre they have both defined and defied like no one else for the past decade: Post-Rock.

One should expect the sheer stylistic diversity of „Beacon of Ancestorship“ to result in a piecemeal or at least fragmentary work. Astoundingly, the opposite is true here. With every surprising twist and radical turnaround, the album creates an increased sense of coherency. These pieces, as unconnected as they may seem at first, appear to relate to each other in various unexpected and yet entirely intuitive ways. At first, the rhythm section seems to be the unifying factor, as almost militant drum rolls and remorselessly groovy shuffles create a virtual Rock-disco feeling. A couple of tracks later, the intoxicating blend of electronic and acoustic instruments (not an entirely new phenomenon for the band but rarely executed as seamlessly as on this occasion) appears to be at the helm, with arrangements itching and twitching as men and machines battle over supremacy. The cross-fertilisation of different genres takes on a prominent role as well, as pieces regularly contain various influences at the same time: Sonorous Dub Bass wobbles meet militant Snare fusillades, Bossa Nova sensuality underpins Western-Guitar melancholia and chaotic sonic experiments lead up to brittly beautiful Ambient sections.

The essential component of „Beacons of Ancestorship“, however, is its immensely sensitive layering. On eight-minute opener „High Class Slim Came Floatin In“, the band operate with almost trivial elements, juxtaposing techno handclaps with cheery Synthesizer lines and cheesy sound effects. By embedding them in an energy-soaked texture and using them as the foundation of a complex and constantly morphing musical riverbed, however, these components suddenly become exciting again. There is a rawness and unpolished immediacy to Tortoise in 2009 that strikingly defies premature calls for their retirement or acceptance into musical pension funds. Compared to „It's all around you“, a couple of epic pieces have found their way into the fold again, but overall, getting your points across as quickly and concisely as possible seems to be their dictum these days.

It is this newly-found urgency that turns the group into an act with a lot of promise rather than a keeper of long-lost glory. While you may still wonder whether they will ever come up with a pristine and utterly devastating composition like „Djed“ again, their latest assault wipes the slate clean and offers plenty of possibilities for the future. From this perspective, „Beacons of Ancestorship“ is quite an impressive achievement: They may not save the independent rock community with it. But Tortoise had everything to loose and have gained a new and promising future for themselves instead.

By Tobias Fischer

Homepage: Tortoise
Homepage: Thrill Jockey Records

Related articles

NeuHuman: "NeuHuman"
Getting the damn-near-impossible done: Massive ...
Radian: "Chimeric"
Reconciling the contradictions: Epic microtonal ...
Jack Rose: "Luck In The Valley"
Antiquated colors: A late-day front ...
Interview with David Daniell & Douglas McCombs
Merely by listening to the ...
Interview with Lokai
For some time, it seemed ...
Lokai: "Transition"
Beautiful rehearsals: A return to ...
Troum: "Eald-Ge-Streon"
No sidethemes or fillers: Troum ...
Twinkle3: "Let's make a solar system"
Fountains of bits and bleeps: ...
15 Questions to Signals under Tests
According to some scientists, aesthetic ...
CD Feature/ Kyle Eastwood: "Metropolitain"
Romancing a middle-aged science teacher: ...
CD Feature/ High Places: "High Places"
A poetic game of give ...
CD Feature/ The Sea and Cake: "Car Alarm"
Demonstratively laid-back: An Indie-oriented blend ...
CD Feature/ Lithops: "Ye Viols!"
Dialogues with machines: A „functionality“ ...
CD Feature/ Mountains: "Choral"
Shifting accentuations: Fishes for genius ...
Tortoise: TNT Red-Hot Vinyl Repressing
Thrill Jockey are making a ...
CD Feature/ Németh: "Film"
Often, the drums are the ...

Partner sites