Rantings, reviews and lists from a person who structures half his life around obsessing over music.

Saturday, June 20, 2009

Tortoise - Beacons of Ancestorship (2009)

2.5 ★/5.0 - 5.9

Tortoise have always been a band of extremes. Their worst tracks have precisely showcased what's wrong with bands who become obsessed with texture for texture's sake, while their best tracks have probably aged better than any other Post Rock bands, and on every one of their albums you can find at least one example of both. Beacons of Ancestorship is no exception. "Northern Something" is the most listless dubscrape collage they could have made, but coming after something as direct, immediate and driving as the Apparat Organ Quartet homage, "Prepare Your Coffin", who could complain? The extended four-song lapse into dullness triggered by mindless math-punk fusion, "Yinxianghechengqui" may seem unforgivable...until the profound guitar figures and cinematic synth flourishes reveal "Charteroak Foundation" to be the band's best album closer yet.

The problem with Tortoise is that they appear so immersed in progress all the time, and so constantly trying to develop, change and experiment as a band, that it's impossible to find any work of theirs that sticks with a sound and style long enough to leave an impression. Albums like TNT, Standards and Millions Now Living..., as great as they are, will always be held back by the fact that they sound like a band still trying to figure out how to sound, including all of their studio experiments on the final product just to show it, and Beacons suffers tenfold from this. Still though, the band's most homogenous and musically focused album of their career, It's All Around You, was arguably one of their weakest, so perhaps being in a constant state of flux is the best thing for them. Indeed, the best tracks of Beacons are the most progressive ones (The shifting structures of "High Class Slim Came Floatin' In" and "Gigantes", in particular) and many long-term Tortoise fans will probably praise the album as a "return to form," in terms of aesthetic. It was inevitable that one of the major 90's post-rock powerhouses would become this irrelevant by the end of the decade, but at least you could say that, in a musical climate where so many bands have stolen and improved upon their formula, Tortoise still haven't sacrificed their integrity, ideals and adventurism.

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