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July 20, 2009 | by  | in Music |
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Tortoise: Beacons of Ancestorship

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Tortoise’s music can be likened to a large melting pot both in that it is a large mixture of genres, influences and instruments, but also that each new album they produce seems like the pot has had a couple new ingredients added, been given a good stir and poured out into a new record, ready to be sampled anew. This is far from a bad thing, for Tortoise are excellent cooks, and since their music is already such a diverse mix of sounds they don’t have much need to change, and so instead pick and choose the odd new element to incorporate.

For Beacons of Ancestorship, the new sonic ingredients appear to be synthesisers and more percussive experimentation. Opening track ‘High Class Slim Came Floatin’ In’ literally heralds the listener, opening with a drawn-out high-pitched note before subsiding into a rolling drum beat which is then interrupted by staccato bass synth. As the song continues, and Tortoise draw out the notes and recurring motifs as they do best, the bass synth continues to puncture the rhythmn while a treble synth floats in and out, with its arpeggios eventually seguing into a dreamy textural finish. Not to be outdone, the guitars respond well in ‘Prepare your coffin’, weaving in and out of a driving synth line before climaxing in a classical solo‑driven breakdown. ‘Northern Something’ showcases a sound that can only be described as an electrical digeridoo plowing through a shuffling drum beat, while ‘Giganto’ builds on simple opening acoustic guitars with subtle and diverse percussion and soaring synths. Through these early songs the music feels fully formed, a delicious mix of textures that feel vital and directed, without the aimless feeling that earlier Tortoise can sometimes evoke.

After the disjunctive filler tracks ‘Penumbra’ and ‘Yinxianghechengqi’ however, the album sees Tortoise seemingly retreat into musical styles of their earlier work, and it is at this point the arrangement of the album comes into question. While ‘Minors’ is the standout of the latter half of the album, it seems like it should be grouped near the beginning, whereas the rest of the last tracks are either unremarkable filler or sound like b-sides of TNT (ala ‘Charteroak Foundation’). Tortoise seem to have made half an album of some of their best work, deftly mixing in new instruments and their accompanying smoothness and character, with an added energy and drive, but then tacking on several extra songs that do little to advance their new sound and instead feel like a regression into earlier, safer territory. While these are still solid songs, after the extremely promising opening act the rest of the album feels like a progressive letdown, with the energy fading until the listener is left feeling bewildered and unsure of what has happened. Beacons of Ancestorship is a confusing and frustrating listen, but nevertheless shows Tortoise’s power to create sonic greatness out of unexpectedly matching ingredients, even if the rest of it sounds a bit stale.

Tortoise
Beacons of Ancestorship
(Thrill Jockey)

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Comments (3)

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  1. your name says:

    did you go to morrinsville intermediate?

  2. My name says:

    the internet will not answer u

  3. Ryan Eyers says:

    Sure did! Definitely miss the epic MIS interclass games of Roccer and Narley.

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