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Tortoise The Catastrophist album cover
3.80 | 51 ratings | 4 reviews | 12% 5 stars

Excellent addition to any
prog rock music collection

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Studio Album, released in 2016

Songs / Tracks Listing

1. The Catastrophist (3:52)
2. Ox Duke (4:49)
3. Rock On (3:13)
4. Gopher Island (1:13)
5. Shake Hands with Danger (4:10)
6. The Clearing Fills (4:22)
7. Gesceap (7:37)
8. Hot Coffee (3:53)
9. Yonder Blue (3:18)
10. Tesseract (3:54)
11. At Odds with Logic (3:15)
12. The Mystery Won't Reveal Itself (to You) (bonus track) (4:01)

Total Time 47:37

Line-up / Musicians

- Dan Bitney / bass, guitar, percussion, vibes, marimba, keyboards, baritone saxophone
- John McEntire / drums, modular synthesizer, ring modulator guitar, electric harpsichord, keyboards
- John Herndon / drums, vibes, keyboards, sequencing
- Jeff Parker / guitar, bass
- Doug McCombs / bass, bass 6, guitar, lap steel
- Todd Rittmann / vocals (3)
- Georgia Hubley / vocals (9)

Releases information

Label: Thrill Jockey Records
Format: CD, Vinyl, Digital
January 22, 2016

Thanks to mbzr48 for the addition
and to projeKct for the last updates
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TORTOISE The Catastrophist ratings distribution

(51 ratings)
Essential: a masterpiece of progressive rock music(12%)
Excellent addition to any prog rock music collection(28%)
Good, but non-essential (30%)
Collectors/fans only (20%)
Poor. Only for completionists (10%)

TORTOISE The Catastrophist reviews

Showing all collaborators reviews and last reviews preview | Show all reviews/ratings

Collaborators/Experts Reviews

Review by LearsFool
5 stars It is fair to say that Tortoise are legends in the post rock canon. While surprisingly left in the dust by many in the critical "cognoscenti", especially when the time comes to make that Best of The '90's list, they've made four of the most commanding classics of their genre. From standard post soundscapes that incorporated IDM to beating Do May Say Think at their own energetic game, they tore through musical history before missteping with 2004's "It's All Around You", and after a surprisingly poor collaboration with the similarly legendary Bonnie "Prince" Billy just about got back on their feet with 2009's "Beacons of Ancestorship", though this wasn't a proper return to form, and they fell silent in the studio for seven years.

So they needed a comeback, and did they ever make one. This forgets about the last fifteen years of their career and picks up where "Standards" left off, and so this record is fast paced, tight, and lightly experimental. For the first time they've added vocals to some of their tracks, most notably their surprise cover of David Essex's "Rock On", and do so to unique and strong effect. As well, they've brought back their electronic side, now subbing out smooth IDM in favour of bedroom indietronica, wonderfully complementing their energetic rock. Otherwise, this is an album that would be familiar to people who've dug both "Millions Now Living Will Never Die" and "TNT", one that they'd likely agree with me deserves five stars, and not for necessarily pushing boundaries but for being a solid, fresh, and wonderful listen from a band we came to love for always trying something a little new. Welcome back, Tortoise.

Review by zravkapt
SPECIAL COLLABORATOR Honorary Collaborator
4 stars In 2010 the city of Chicago commissioned the members of Tortoise to compose a suite of music honoring the city's jazz and improv community. Some of the music on The Catastrophist originated in embryonic form during that time. However, those ideas were expanded upon for the finished product. Other songs originated from sessions for previous albums while two new songs feature vocals. Unusual for this band but not unheard of; their first single from 1993 had vocals and lyrics, and they had a song on their 2004 album which featured a cut-up wordless guest female vocal. This album is a curious mix of Tortoise by numbers and Tortoise trying to do new things. Their first album since 2009, the multi-instrumentalist members have been busy doing other things since but saved their "that sounds like Tortoise" bits for this album.

There are only two bands that could have made the title track: Tortoise or a band trying to sound like Tortoise. Classic mid-paced Tortoise with a nice melodic twist at the end. "Ox Duke" is more classic Tortoise that would have fit on the TNT album. Another surprise towards the end when everything gets more minimalistic and cinematic sounding. One of the vocal songs here is a cover of the 1973 'one-hit wonder' "Rock On" by David Essex. For a pop hit from 1973, the original was already weird. The version here is more stripped back but also more spacey sounding, the double bass reminding one of early Tortoise. Todd Ritman of noise rock band U.S. Maple does the vocals. This sort of has a similar vibe to the covers album they did back in 2006 with Bonnie 'Prince' Billy.

"Shake Hands With Danger" is a highlight. This one does not sound era-specific. A simple steady beat throughout but it's what is going on over top that is interesting. Nice guitar tone and melodies here. "Gesceap" was the first song previewed from the album and it's not surprising therefore it's also one of the highlights. Certainly the most energenic song here. Starts out hypnotic and electronic but drums and guitar show up while the synths get less hypnotic and more melodic. The drumming and distorted bass create a tense atmosphere over halfway. "Hot Coffee" originated as an idea during the It's All Around You sessions. Possibly the funkiest thing Tortoise ever did. Another highlight which doesn't sound specific to any era or album.

"Yonder Blue" is the other vocal song. Featuring the vocals and lyrics of Georgia Hubley from indie legends Yo La Tenga. Musically this sounds very un-Tortoise. Easy going and ballad like, the song itself is alright but the production sounds too demo-like in my opinion. "Tesseract" is the jazziest piece on the album. Another standout but could have fit on any of the band's post-TNT albums. I have to admit that every time I listen to The Catastrophist I enjoy it more and more, it's a grower. The vocal tracks don't really reward many repeated listens but the best instrumental tracks show how textured they are. Not the best Tortoise album but neither the worst. Fans of Jaga Jazzists last album may like this. I'll give this 4 stars.

Review by Neu!mann
4 stars After more than twenty years the music of Tortoise is still incredibly hard to pin down. So I turn to guitarist Jeff Parker for an insider's description of the band's eighth and arguably best studio album, which he calls "progressive experimental music with pop sensibilities". You won't find a more succinct analysis of the elusive Tortoise sound than that, and it's almost true.

Some of the material here was first aired in embryonic form as part of a 2010 Chicago commission to celebrate the Windy City's musical heritage. But the much later album far exceeded that original mandate, becoming the band's widest ranging and richest effort to date.

The title track kicks off with some of the nerdiest analog synthesizers heard in forty years: a perfect audio illustration of the album's unfortunate (but eye-catching) cover portrait. After that the stage expands far beyond the shores of Lake Michigan to embrace, and then surpass, all the usual Tortoise detours: lush post-modern grooves; eclectic after-hours lounge bop; jagged ethno-funk with a touch of Krautrock grunge. And, in "Yonder Blue", unexplored territory for this otherwise strictly instrumental group: a truly romantic pop song.

Robert Wyatt was invited (but declined) to be the guest vocalist, which should be a clue to the style of the music. The job eventually went to Yo La Tengo's Georgia Hubley, to these ears a better fit for such an unexpected change of pace.

And then there's the album's other happy surprise: a left-field interpretation of the 1973 David Essex chart-topper "Rock On". The new version presents a suitably reptilian Tortoise re-imagining of an already oddball novelty hit, miles ahead of the similar but less effective avant-pop covers heard on the 2006 album "The Brave and the Bold" (quod vide, but not a true Tortoise recording).

Even their best fans (let's see a show of hands) would have to admit the music of Tortoise can sometimes resemble academic exercises in Post Rock engineering. But the band has never sounded more relaxed, or been so focused. After two decades of unqualified cult success, is it fair to say the Tortoise quintet has finally emerged from its collective shell?

Review by Mellotron Storm
4 stars Man what a come back album for this legendary Post-Rock band. Not since their "Millions Now Living Will Never Die" and "TNT" years have they put out such a quality release in my opinion. I picked this up based on the glowing reviews here and am so glad I did. Of course TORTOISE is far from being a typical Post-Rock band as they don't do those slowly building soundscapes that end in a wall of sound, no these guys are quite different from anything I've heard. Some say poppy with plenty of intricate sounds including lots of vibes, sequencing, marimba and synths. We also get lap steel guitar, sax, ring modular guitar and electric harpsichord just to give you a idea of sound. There are two guest vocalists as well. That album cover is hilarious by the way.

"The Catastrophist" features lots of lighter and often higher pitched sounds before it settles into a deep groove with bass, drums and keys standing out. I love when the synths join in before 1 1/2 minutes. Sounds echo as the beat continues. Bass to the fore around 2 1/2 minutes then sax a minute later. "Ox Duke" opens with sounds that echo as the bass and intricate sounds join in. It's fuller after a minute with synths. Love that repetitive feel good melody. Vibes around 3 1/2 minutes as it then turns darker to the end. Two fantastic tracks to get us started.

"Rock On" surprised me big time when I first heard it. Yes that familiar song is a cover of David Essex's 1973 hit that is still played on Classic rock stations today. A deep beat, bass and what sounds like electronics as these manipulated vocals join in. Then vocals stop as the sax honks before 2 minutes then back to our regular programming. "Gopher Island" is just over a minute long and has this fast beat with deep pulsating sounds then it picks up speed with some crazy sounding keys? "Shake Hands With Danger" is my middle name by the way. Another stand out track with intricate sounds as other sounds pulse and beat. The sax starts to blast over top. So cool and so catchy.

"The Clearing Fills" sounds like it has this electronic beat with keys and more. It suddenly turns dark and haunting 3 minutes in. I love this one! "Gesceap" is a track that reminds me of some of HARMONIUM and LA DUSSELDORF works. Those higher pitched intricate sounds with accordion-like sounds does that for me. A beat joins in after 1 1/2 minutes. It does get more intense after 4 minutes then it settles back just before 7 minutes.

"Hot Coffee" is another favourite of mine. Keys echo as a beat and intricate sounds help out. It's building. I like the guitar that comes and goes. Catchy stuff as synths also join in. "Yonder Blue" has a beat and slowish pulsating sounds as the female vocals join in. A dreamy, laid back tune with some keys and guitar as well. "Tesseract" is another catchy track with a beat, guitar, bass and more. I really like that repetitive bass line. "At Odds With Logic" is laid back and relaxed with a beat, guitar and more. Suddenly 2 minutes in it becomes more powerful but slower too. A great way to end this album.

I picked this up fairly early in 2016 after reading a really positive review on here, then more followed. Then before I review this all I seem to see on the RYM site was negativity which I still don't get. Other than I feel I'm much more in tune with the reviewers on this site for the most part. A must!

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