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5 stars Tortoise have always been band that liked to reinvent themselves with each new album. every proper studio album differs pretty greatly from the one before. this one is no exception. this album sees the band truly honing their sound, the lovely electronic, post-rock sound they have created. this album seems to be a bit more consistent in how they sound, their many different sound come through as one as opposed to the 3/4 post rock 1/4 techno makeup of TNT and the on-off-on again feel of Standards. the band also adds a much heavier touch on this album, dripping with bass fuzz in certain tunes.

Tortoise has to be one of my favorite bands of all time. i feel pretty honoured to give the first review/rating. it's seems to me that they should be rated much higher than they currently are. i do not flinch to give this album 5 stars. they are more than deserving of a band. and the album itself is definitely a solid 4.5

Report this review (#223274)
Posted Friday, June 26, 2009 | Review Permalink
3 stars Beacons of Ancestorship is the sixth Tortoise album, right after the negatively received It's All Around You. There's really a lot going on here, new sounds and areas being explored, which is to be expected from Tortoise. As always, Tortoise is changing and morphing, and Beacons does sound very different from earlier works like TNT at times- Prepare Your Coffin and Northern Something don't sound all that much like earlier Tortoise, abandoning most of their subtlety and instead make two good but not great experimental rock tracks. High Class Slim contains what is probably their best use of synthesizers, as it is the focus of the song, and has Tortoise's signature drumming style behind it. Penumbra is the other synth-led song, short but nice. Gigantes and Seven Diamonds sound much like TNT, focusing on the interplay between guitar and percussion to form atmospheric and evocative soundscapes. Yinxiang really does not sound like Tortoise at all, using a distorted, muddy bass riff, background drums, and supplementary guitar work, then ends in ambience; despite being atypical (not a bad thing at all), it's a really good song. Minors sounds a lot like the material from Standards, with jazzy influences and electronic instruments. Monument is a bit of a low point, as the electronic beats aren't nearly as effective as they were on Seneca, but it's still an alright song. And finally, De Chelly is a good downbeat closer, though it's a shame it couldn't have been longer. So, Beacons is a worthwhile album, but somewhat overshadowed by their earier masterpieces. On the border between three and four stars, but I'll go down for previously stated reasons.
Report this review (#261912)
Posted Thursday, January 21, 2010 | Review Permalink
Honorary Collaborator
3 stars Beacons of Ancestorship is the 7th full-length studio album by American experimental rock act Tortoise. The album is a return to familiar instrumental experimental rock territory after a short excursion into vocal rock territory on The Brave and the Bold (2006) where Tortoise were helped out by Will Oldham.

Tortoise continue to play with and twist the rules of rock music by adding electronic and semi-jazzy elements to their music. The post rock tag that the band have had around their necks since the beginning doesn´t really apply anymore. The 11 tracks on Beacons of Ancestorship are high quality compositions. The musicianship is also on a high level and overall this is a very good release. I´m having a bit of trouble explaining how the music sounds though so the term experimental rock will apply for now. If the drumming had been more jazzy some of the songs could have been mistaken for jazz/ rock. A song like Prepare Your Coffin is a good example of that ( I hear a Santana vibe in that song). High Class Slim Came Floatin' In and Charteroak Foundation which bookend the album are favorites for me. The noisy Yinxianghechengqi is also worth a mention.

Every new release by Tortoise has always progressed their sound and broken new ground and Beacons of Ancestorship is no exception. I enjoy how creative they are and while not all songs on the album egually appeal to me they are undeniably quality material and a 3.5 star rating is well deserved.

Report this review (#268081)
Posted Thursday, February 25, 2010 | Review Permalink
Sean Trane
Prog Folk
3 stars Seventh full length Tortoise album, one of the Post Rock founders and pioneers, one that's able to get away from the ultra-formulaic skewings the movement has gotten itself into with those '00's clones that gives all of these clichés, which are unfortunately rightly flogged to death. Still lead by McEntire, the quintet has managed to renew themselves with every album or EP since the early-90's, even if the "progression" was uneven (but who cares anyway, right?), although they've even ventured into vocal music, a great departure from their usually totally instrumental music, which Ancestorship returns to. Some might think that Post Rock doesn't apply to Tortoise anymore, and indeed when comparing to the usual later clichés, they might have half a point; but in the overall picture, Tortoise remains Post Rock in the early 90's aesthetics.

Some tracks are nearly Krautrock-y in the electronic sense (ala Kraftwerk or Cluster), but also sometimes nearing techno music (like Coffin, Gigantes, seven Diamonds or De Chelly), but it's only half the album, and not the good one. But the opening High Class track might sound like a Nektar or soft Hawkwind , and some more sound almost classic prog-era stuff, such as Northern Something, Yingxiansumthin' and Monument (between Eloy and Yes, if you'll forget the modern drumming), while there's even an ethnic feel (the Moroccan beats of Penumbra and the bluesy Minors), but it's rather discreet.

Often reminiscent of their It's All Around You album, while Beacons Of Ancestorship might be a worthy Tortoise album (and a solid improvement on their previous album), I'm not sure it's worth for the proghead to actually invest into this album, but I'd say that it will come down to his own tolerance of Techno music.

Report this review (#303843)
Posted Thursday, October 14, 2010 | Review Permalink
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.

Report this review (#318317)
Posted Sunday, November 14, 2010 | Review Permalink
Post/Math Rock Team
4 stars This is the follow up to The Brave And The Bold, a 2006 covers album with Will Oldham on vocals. I don't consider that album a 'Tortoise' album as much as it is an album featuring the members of Tortoise, if that makes any sense. So when I compare this release with the previous two, I'm talking about Standards(2001) and It's All Around You(2004). To some extent every every album has been a progression from the last. But here they seem to not be doing anything very new, instead trying to focus on the strengths of the previous two albums. The line-up hasn't changed which might have something to do with it.

One thing that has changed is the instrumentation. The trademark vibes are almost nowhere to be found. Rarely is there more than one bass playing at a time, while the guitar seems more important than before. Here most of the songs are drums / bass / guitar / keyboards, while on earlier albums your average song was more bass / drums / bass / vibraphone / keyboards / xylophone. As usual the sound and production is top notch and the playing great. Some of the songs here are a little too short and almost come off as filler.

"High Class Slim Came Floatin' In" opens the album with a cool synth riff. Then it goes into symphonic electronic dub territory. Some ambient funk for awhile. Before 5 minutes gets fuzzy and distorted while the tempo increases slightly. Some hypnotic sequencers to end it. "Prepare Your Coffin" is more rockin' with steady drumming. Nice electric harpsichord. Good mix of synths and guitar. Cool but short guitar solo later on. Some synthetic handclaps. "Northern Something" has an awesome synth riff. This is techno you want to headbang to. Such a great sound but the song is way, way too short.

"Gigantes" has compressed drums going back and forth with some exotic string instruments. Sounds like some Spanish style guitar playing here as well. In the middle is a synth-sounding guitar solo with a cool vibrato effect and great percussion. Synth bass comes in and the song gets more melodic with other synths joining. Some more synthetic handclap sounds here. Some kind of imitated bird sounds at the end.

"Yinxianghechengqi" is the most talked about song on the album. Sort of like grunge meets industrial. A very hard-edged and rockin' song. I don't think it's as shocking as some think; they have lots of harder rocking moments on some of their songs, but this is the first time they concentrated it all into one song. Nonetheless, Tortoise don't usually rock this hard. Gets more spacey and electronic near the end. "The Fall Of Seven Diamonds Plus One" is loungy jazz that sounds like the music to a 1960s spy movie. The drum machine used here sounds like the Roland that Collins/Genesis was using in the early 1980s.

"De Chelly" is an ambient piece with great use of analog synths. The last song "Charteroak Foundation" is one of the best here. Nice arpeggioed guitar and symphonic synths in this song. Great steady drumbeat. Love the melodic synth that comes in around the 2 minute mark. Guitar harmonics in the middle with weird effects.

This would actually make a good introduction to this group, (seemingly) being the most "rock" oriented of their albums. Although I like this album a lot, I feel it's a step down from the previous two. Still, for 2009, experimental instrumental rock hardly got better. If you like their earlier albums, you will most likely enjoy this as well. If this is your first Tortoise album, then you may or may not like anything they did before this. I'll give Beacons Of Ancestorship a 3.5, but I'll bump it up to 4 stars.

Report this review (#401025)
Posted Tuesday, February 15, 2011 | Review Permalink
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".

Report this review (#825454)
Posted Thursday, September 20, 2012 | Review Permalink
3 stars After a pair of albums laminated in glossy digital polish the Post Rockers of Tortoise returned to grittier territory in 2009, back-dating their sound with dirty analog synthesizers and unprocessed acoustic drums. The melodic lines are sometimes harsh, and the instrumental textures often abrasive; even the occasional electronic percussion (in "Penumbra", and elsewhere) has an appealing retro New Wave feel, recalling Daniel Miller in his "Warm Leatherette" days.

And yet this is still a highly refined act, whether flirting with groovy industrial techno (in "Monument Six One Thousand") or performing with Punk-like intensity (and here I'll simply direct your attention to track six, instead of trying to type out the full unpronounceable title). As you might have noticed, the band's affection for descriptive non-sequiturs remains intact, but with no lyrics or other context clues it's hard to imagine what sort of cognitive mambo led them to identify the album's opening electro-grunge stomp as "High Class Slim Came Floatin' In".

The music itself is typically oblique, and no easier to describe on the band's sixth album than on their previous five. Just about everyone in the quintet plays bass guitar or percussion (or both), making it one of the more purely rhythmic groups ever assembled, and playful too. Note the guitar throughout the album closer "Charteroak Foundation", played in 3/4 time over drumming in 4/4. None of the music is really developed: the end of any selection is never too far removed from its start, in total resembling a collection of energetic doodles.

Tortoise doesn't really fit inside the Post Rock pigeonhole, sharing none of that movement's usual stylistic conventions: long, loud epiphanies, jangling twin guitars, and so forth. Most of the album's eleven tracks time out at a modest three- to five-minutes, and a few of those ("Northern Something"; "Gigantes") are cut even closer to the bone. Maybe the label stuck because of their obstinate pursuit of an uncommon muse, with no concessions to popular taste or passing trends. The band continues to exist within its own self-contained exoskeletal shell, reason enough to celebrate their return after five years away from the recording studio.

Report this review (#948755)
Posted Wednesday, April 24, 2013 | Review Permalink

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