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Tortoise - Beacons Of Ancestorship CD (album) cover

BEACONS OF ANCESTORSHIP

Tortoise

 

Post Rock/Math rock

3.33 | 25 ratings

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ExittheLemming
Prog Reviewer
3 stars Rock's Post Mortem is Just Prematurely Aged Modernity

I've always been sceptical about the prefix 'post' attached to anything, as its authors presume to somehow have a clean slate or vacuum from which to work shorn of all that messy referential baggage that hinders our deeply ingrained prejudices. The only critters that might be attached willingly or otherwise to posts are dogs. Me? I'm rather fond of my hard won prejudices (and dogs) as they protect our intellectual property from the sort of semantic guttersnipes that threaten to reduce aesthetics to 'signifiers' and 'symbols'. Mark out your territory before the piss artists come cold-calling for a donation. Like semolina, Semiotics is easy to swallow, enjoyed by the infirm and dyspeptic the world over while miraculously conspires to be both coarse and purified.

This is rock music. Very imaginative, innovative, entertaining and in places exhilarating and beautiful rock music, but still references every popular music idiom you care to shake a post-modern ribbon stick controller at. (Tip: I'll let you do the math but let it go before yelling Fetch!) No matter how you dress up kitsch, irony, knowingness, nihilism, cultural relativism or consumerism it's none of those things that keep your eyes moist pilgrim. The awe, wonder and ineffable 'Yowza' that our creations are capable of inducing cannot be reduced to a winking smirk and a Venn diagram. Being beholden to beauty replicates innocence and not just once upon a time but always and forever.

Hurry up Lemming, we haven't had our first cheap fart gag yet for Gawd's sake

What's intriguing about Tortoise is how they meld elements from the club to those normally found in the garage. To wit: heavily processed dance kick drums underpin the wide dynamics and infinite timbral possibilities afforded by an acoustic drum kit made to inhabit a lo-fi virtual jazz space while played quite brilliantly by McEntire and Herndon. It does seem ironic however that the treatments they subject these performances to all crib their inspiration from the past. The analogue synths employed scream Krautrock, Cluster, BBC Radiophonics Workshop, Buchla, Dick Hyman and Mort Garson in equal measure and Tortoise exploit said gizmos not to replicate flutes, strings or brass but for their naked, raw, other worldly signature as they would have struck our formative ears in the early 70's. Sci-fi gauche is never far from the surface but I'm a complete sucker for that anyway so throw another shrimp on the barbie and get the beers in for the landing party fellas.

I can't help but envisage Dr Frankenstein's laboratory when I hear some of these tracks as they all have a monochrome, German expressionist, retro-futuristic bent that conjures up imagery of Fritz Lang sitting in the producer's chair chastising the long suffering Igor for not applying sufficient 'aliasing bit crushed grit you oaf, throw the switch!' via one of the digital audio plug-ins during mix-down. Check out De Chelly for an example of what a Harry Partch composed and orchestrated mass might resemble.

When the beat kicks in on Charteroak Foundation I am left with the same disorientation as that caused by (cough) post-punk's I Am Damo Suzuki by the Fall i.e. it seems wrong or plain cack-handed and out of conventional sync but somehow and quite perversely it works. (Dunno...)

It's also tempting to daydream about what would have resulted had you travelled back in time to say 1958 and kidnapped Miles Davis, Terry Riley, Tony Williams and Charles Mingus, locked their favoured instruments securely in a room and let the quartet loose in Tortoise's state of the nostalgic art studio. Perhaps the results wouldn't have been a million miles away from some of the fiery music on the revisionary titled Beacons of Ancestorship?. There is a halting chromatic accent here and there but it's mostly modestly textural as neither the harmonic vocabulary or rhythmic language is anything like what we find in conventional jazz. The overall structures seem to have been improvised at length beforehand but the detail is meticulously planned and rehearsed throughout.

Those of you familiar with the aforementioned Mancunians The Fall will recognise instantly the more overtly 'Techno meets Indie' fusions from the latter's late 80's output which dispenses mostly with what they considered 'girly' squelchy synth bass and drum machines in favour of a heavily compressed/over-driven bass guitar timbre wedded to a greasy basement acoustic drum-kit sound. Thus the visceral weight of rawk is preserved while the possibilities for electronic mischief and genre undermining are cast in a more flattering light against this reassuringly familiar backdrop. Some of the guitar textures on The Fall of Seven Diamonds Plus One and Minors recall a few of Tom Verlaine's more ambient excursions on the Warm and Cool album.

I like this record but hesitate to even acknowledge it as being an instance of anything that has yet outreached or surmounted the implied limitations of rock. Whether we care to admit it not, the vital signs of rock still consist of a discernible pulse and when that's gone we might as well let the sabermetricians have their way and call death 'post-living' while we console ourselves with another slice of their humble pie-chart.

ExittheLemming | 3/5 |

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