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Tortoise - Beacons Of Ancestorship CD (album) cover




Post Rock/Math rock

3.51 | 32 ratings

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4 stars

I haven't heard much by Tortoise at this point in time, but what I have heard has really impressed me. Beacons of Ancestorship, their most recent album, is a highly diverse and interesting album that creates many textured atmospheres. coexisting with harsh guitars and synthesizers in a surprisingly pleasant mixture.

The first track, the 8-minute "High-Class Slim Came Floating In", is actually one of my least favorite tracks. It begins with a sort of irritating high-pitched drone, with the lead being played by a sort of choppy synthesizer part. The drumming on the track, however, is very effective. After a while it suddenly transitions into a heavy repeated pattern that almost sounds like a broken record. This gets monotonous very quickly, and finally a synth ostinato rises out of the repetition...veeeeery slowly. The whole thing feels kind of stretched and hardly develops, making the song a bit boring by the end, when the ostinato just jumbles into oblivion. The whole thing feels unfinished.

After that is "Prepare Your Coffin", which has some more frantic and excellent drumming--occasionally missing and then rescuing crucial beats, to give the whole thing an interesting off-kilter feel-- underneath layered ascending guitar and synth patterns. Yet another layer of complex chords underneath help fill out the sound. The guitar also gets an energetic but brief solo midway through.

After this, the short interlude, "Northern Something", starts out with a light variety of percussion, and then a wobbly synth theme enters, followed by heavier drumming. There isn't much to this track, but it's not very long, either, so that isn't a problem. It is effective as an interlude.

"Gigantes" has a similar layered, complex percussion part, but tops instead with some fascinatingly mathy, interweaving string instruments (which are difficult to identify) and a rather spare theme. But in the middle, this is suddenly replaced by a wailing electric guitar, and then a nice sequence of chord changes on bass and synth. Finally, the lead is replaced by mysterious breathy sounds and ringing synthesizers, playing a mysterious and beautifully atmospheric tune.

Another interlude follows, this one a weird piece of electronica called "Penumbra", containing a simple melody played on sampled-sounding synths with a shifting background. This one is very fun to listen to.

The next piece is a bit of a shocker--the harsh, noisy "Yinxianghechengqi", with a muddy, grumbling bass and synthesizer in the lead and furious drumming. Some times the whole thing is lost in a grinding storm, but one never competely loses track of the exciting melody (what there is of one).

The record calms down a bit after this with the sedate "The Fall of Seven Diamonds Plus One", with a slow, twangy guitar playing a minimal theme alongside similarly minimal percussion, including something sounding like a rattling chain. Again, the themes are very effective, and even though this piece is very slow, it still keeps up enough momentum to avoid collapsing.

"Minors" continues with sounds similar to "High-Class Slim", but playing a more cohesive and connected theme (one of the best on the disc), with interesting rhythmic shenanigans that the punchy drums effortlessly keep pace with. The synthesizers in this song also present more variety than the opener, producing a fuller background.

"Monument Six One Thousand" starts off with a bizarre, experimentally electronic beat pounding underneath meandering guitar, later accompanied by dissonant, repetitive chords.This is significantly weirder than anything else occurring on the album, but it still has a certain charm to it--the beat is interesting, and the guitar melodies are still pleasant in parts, even though they are also more dissonant.

The final "interlude" piece, "De Chelly", starts with a cool chord progression on a synthesizer and a brief melody on top of it. The entire thing is extremely spare, but that progression is amazing--it would be nice to see the band do more with it.

The album is lucky enough to close with its main highlight, "Charteroak Foundation"--the entire piece driven by another strange (but remarkably catchy) chord progression, this time arpeggiated on guitar, forming a 3/4 polyrhythm with the 4/4 drums (whose entrance is startling and impressive.) The piece starts out quiet with a simple theme and builds up to a sweeping set of variations on the undergirding arpeggios, becoming more angular until it suddenly drops back to the synthesizer that started the theme. It's a beautiful piece, and serves as a fitting capstone to the rest of the disc.

Tortoise's main success, well exemplified on this album, is combining bizarrely experimental studio trickery, electronica, and harmonic and rhythmic complexity with genuinely good melodies and nice atmosphere. Highlights include "Gigantes", "Yinxianghechengqi", "Minors", and definitely "Charteroak Foundation".

Zargasheth | 4/5 |


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