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TORTOISE

Post Rock/Math rock • United States


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Tortoise biography
Chicago-based Tortoise have been around since the early 90s. The nucleus of the band is John Herndon, John McEntire, Dan Bitney and Doug McCombs, essentially a double rhythm section although all four are accomplished multi instrumentalists. The band play intricate, highly structured instrumental music that is based around mallet percussion, basses, drums, guitar and keyboards, with extensive use of synthesisers and studio effects.

Their recording career took off in 1994 with the release of their debut album, which was recorded as a 5 piece with Bundy K Brown. The album was well received, but shortly afterwards founder member Brown left and was replaced by former Slint musician Dave Pajo. This line up made the excellent Millions Now Living Will Never Die, the first half of which is a remarkable 21 minute piece called Djed. The band expanded to a 6 piece with guitarist Jeff Parker for their next album, TNT. This third album was recorded over 10 months in a computer equipped studio, and is a dazzling 65 minute collection that is full of hidden nuances and subtlelties. Following this album Pajo left to work on his solo career, and the remaining 5 piece has since made 2 albums, Standards and It's All Around You. All the musicians are also involved in other projects, notably Isotope 217, The Sea and Cake, Chicago Underground and Brokeback. John McEntire has acted as the band's in-house producer, and has also produced acts as diverse as Stereolab (whose Dots and Loops album was partly a collaborative effort with Tortoise) and Wilco, among many others.

Although generally classified as post rock, the music of Tortoise is hard to pin down. They don't play the kind of lengthy drones with enormous crescendoes favoured by bands like Godspeed You! Black Emperor and Explosions In The Sky, but generally favour shorter, rhythmically complex pieces. Some critics have detected a jazz influence, perhaps because of their extensive use of vibes, but there is little room for improvisation in their music and their painstaking studio work is at odds with normal jazz practice. There is a strong influence of minimalist composers like Steve Reich, Philip Glass and Terry Riley discernible throughout their work, and it is this coupled with the core member's background in the hardcore/alternative scene which probably comes closest to summing their music up.

- Chris Gleeson (Syzygy)

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Buy TORTOISE Music


The CatastrophistThe Catastrophist
Thrill Jockey 2016
$9.58
$6.98 (used)
Beacons Of AncestorshipBeacons Of Ancestorship
Thrill Jockey 2009
$9.55
$2.97 (used)
Millions Now Living Will Never DieMillions Now Living Will Never Die
Thrill Jockey 1996
$10.06
$7.23 (used)
StandardsStandards
Thrill Jockey 2016
$17.40
$24.84 (used)
Brave & The BoldBrave & The Bold
Overcoat Recordings 2006
$20.04
$2.96 (used)
TNTTNT
Thrill Jockey 1998
$8.37
$6.66 (used)
It's All Around You [Vinyl]It's All Around You [Vinyl]
Thrill Jockey 2016
$16.34
$26.94 (used)
Tnt (Color Vinyl/Dl)Tnt (Color Vinyl/Dl)
THRILL JOCKEY RECORDS 2018
$23.08
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TORTOISE discography


Ordered by release date | Showing ratings (top albums) | Help Progarchives.com to complete the discography and add albums

TORTOISE top albums (CD, LP, MC, SACD, DVD-A, Digital Media Download)

3.54 | 41 ratings
Tortoise
1994
3.72 | 85 ratings
Millions Now Living Will Never Die
1996
3.68 | 84 ratings
TNT
1998
3.37 | 48 ratings
Standards
2001
3.21 | 37 ratings
It's All Around You
2004
2.77 | 13 ratings
Tortoise & Bonnie "Prince" Billy: The Brave and the Bold
2006
3.52 | 31 ratings
Beacons Of Ancestorship
2009
3.80 | 46 ratings
The Catastrophist
2016

TORTOISE Live Albums (CD, LP, MC, SACD, DVD-A, Digital Media Download)

TORTOISE Videos (DVD, Blu-ray, VHS etc)

TORTOISE Boxset & Compilations (CD, LP, MC, SACD, DVD-A, Digital Media Download)

4.00 | 2 ratings
A Digest Compendium Of The Tortoise's World
1996
5.00 | 1 ratings
Remixed
1996
3.45 | 10 ratings
A Lazarus Taxon
2006

TORTOISE Official Singles, EPs, Fan Club & Promo (CD, EP/LP, MC, Digital Media Download)

0.00 | 0 ratings
Lonesome Sound
1993
3.00 | 1 ratings
Mosquito
1993
5.00 | 1 ratings
Gamera / Cliff Dweller Society
1995
1.10 | 2 ratings
Why We Fight
1995
3.00 | 1 ratings
Rhythms, Resolutions & Clusters
1995
1.00 | 1 ratings
Music For Workgroups
1996
0.00 | 0 ratings
Rivers
1996
0.00 | 0 ratings
Djed / Tjed
1996
3.00 | 1 ratings
The Taut And The Tame / Find The One
1996
2.00 | 1 ratings
Yaus / Speedy Car
1996
2.00 | 2 ratings
Derrick Carter Vs. Tortoise
1998
3.00 | 1 ratings
Tour 1998
1998
2.00 | 1 ratings
Adverse Camber / To Day Retreival
1998
2.87 | 4 ratings
In The Fishtank
1999
1.10 | 2 ratings
Gently Cupping The Chin Of The Ape
2001
4.00 | 1 ratings
Why Waste Time?
2010

TORTOISE Reviews


Showing last 10 reviews only
 Tortoise by TORTOISE album cover Studio Album, 1994
3.54 | 41 ratings

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Tortoise
Tortoise Post Rock/Math rock

Review by WFV

5 stars This album is an alltime classic and a transcendent moment for the US indie music scene. During the ascent of the grunge phenomena, every band looking for a record deal forgot all their chops, put on flannel and made themselves as ugly as possible.

Every band looking to make a mark with their chops went to independent labels like Thrill Jockey. Tortoise and its subsequent albums formed the cornerstone of the Thrill Jockey influence and popularized the template (first laid out by the band Slint, in my opinion) for the whole post rock operation. The best post rock in my eyes is ambient music with virtuosic intstrumentalists playing with a rock slant. It can be listened to intently or treated as background noise. This debut album gets great marks for both and truly is a winner across the board. I equate this album - not musically really - to another prog favorite of mine, Goblin's 1976 Roller. Inspired by the times, deftly pulling out all the stops - short, riveting, intense, and exciting.

 Beacons Of Ancestorship by TORTOISE album cover Studio Album, 2009
3.52 | 31 ratings

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Beacons Of Ancestorship
Tortoise Post Rock/Math rock

Review by TCat
Prog Reviewer

5 stars Tortoise is one of the bands accredited to the rise in post rock music by being on of the genre's earliest innovators. Since that time they have expanded way beyond the bar they set, but since they are experimenters on and beyond the rock genre, they are progressive more than they are post rock. They have taken many current trends and turned them on their ear, for example, they have delved into hip hop, jazz, minimalism, drone and just about any other style, and have moved those genres way beyond their established borders. So, it's tough to pin them down to any particular genre anymore. They have even experimented with indie-folk with their previous album 'The Brave and the Bold' where they partnered with Bonnie 'Prince' Billy to release an album of completely reimagined covers, and they even messed up new age music by helping Beck dismantle Yanni's 'Live at the Acropolis'.

So after 5 years of doing little projects here and there, they finally released this album 'Beacons of Ancestorship', and, as usual, fans were wondering where they were going to go this time. It seems the band was out to re-establish their position as innovators and inventors in the music world. Once again, they work to stretch the boundaries of whatever is current, almost seemingly in order to create a new genre out of existing genres.

We start off with the 8 minute track 'High Class Slim Came Floatin' In'. Taking a mid tempo dance rhythm, they produce synth heavy and catchy melodies to pull you directly into their music. The rhythm is steady, but not necessarily standard with some tricky back beats. A sudden stop/start rhythm and melody suddenly comes out of nowhere, just as you thought you might get up and move around. Even with Tortoise, this catches you off guard. At 4 minutes, they then turn to a minimalistic approach, but a sudden quick build brings you away from that to a heavy beat and sound while arpeggios swirl around making for a repetitive section where dynamics and processed sounds are used on separate layers, creating a cool atmosphere.

Two shorter tracks follow this. 'Prepare Your Coffin' uses a nice guitar/synth combo to create a nice accessible rock tune against a fast beat. 'Northern Something' is driven by an almost tropical rhythm that is suddenly overshadowed by a dark, yet funky synth. The sound is anything but standard in the unique growly melody against the percussion that has somehow turned from tropical to a march.

'Gigantes' is over 6 minutes and starts with a middle Eastern rhythm and sound. The rhythm continues while the instruments go every which way making unique sounds and melodies. Of course, as can be expected from this inventive band, things change slowly and before you know it, the sound of the track changes to something completely different. The rhythm has evolved into something else completely and so has the melody. Tricky rhythmic passages keep this one interesting throughout.

'Penumbra' is a very short track, which seems like it is trying to catch a rhythm or groove, but doesn't quite make it. After a minute, it gives up and quits. At this point, the entire album shifts it's focus from techno inspired songs to experimental songs. 'Yinxianghechengqi' goes into a completely different direction. It is a loud punkish-sounding track, more chaotic and heavy than anything previous to this. At the 2:30 mark, it suddenly turns dark and experimental as different tones, textures and sounds try and fail to take over, then it fades. 'The Fall of Seven Diamonds Plus One' has a nice European vibe with a thudding beat over an almost Spanish sounding rhythm and guitar. Tortoise is only borrowing this for the background of something a little more complex than this, almost turning it into a lounge jazz style spaghetti western track.

'Minors' continues with that Euro-jazz feel that follows a melodic style more than the previous. The unexpected part is the electric guitar staying in the lower register making everything seem a little unsettling. 'Monument Six One Thousand' turns to a mid tempo funk with a guitar following a completely different meter. It all does come together somehow by the end of the track. It's kind of cool the way the funky bass line ties everything together. 'De Chelly' is another very short track which is simply a synth/organ playing chords, almost feels like church.

Finally, this album is all wrapped up with 'Charteroak Foundation' which takes the last track and expands upon it. A quick beat starts up over the top of a guitar playing an arpeggiated pattern. Synths start up tying the two strange meters together. Strangely enough, it all works. After the albums dive into darker tones in the middle, this is the track that takes us out of that darkness. It ties the light and dark feelings prevelant in both halves of the album together.

This is the Tortoise style that I like best with a lot of variety in the sound, stretching both the accessible and the dark into new areas. There is plenty here to keep the progressive minded interested especially when it comes to being progressive and relevant at the same time. A very good album, it keeps things interesting, and it even retains it's strange sense of playfulness and humor, even in the darker passages. This is an excellent instrumental album, that doesn't have to rely on one style, and isn't afraid to go off in odd tangents. I also love the sly way Tortoise can shift a track from one style to another in such a sneaky way, that if you aren't listening close, you may not even notice. This is intellectual progressive rock of the best kind, but you do have to be listening close or you will miss what makes it so humorous and intellectual.

 Adverse Camber / To Day Retreival by TORTOISE album cover Singles/EPs/Fan Club/Promo, 1998
2.00 | 1 ratings

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Adverse Camber / To Day Retreival
Tortoise Post Rock/Math rock

Review by TCat
Prog Reviewer

— First review of this album —
2 stars 'Autechre' is a band composed of two individuals who do a lot of electronic and ambient remixes along with an impressive discography. 'Tortoise', as most proggers know, is a band of several talented individuals, who, along with being very influential in Post Rock, have experimented with several different genres.

The track 'Ten-Day Interval' is a track from Tortoise's album 'TNT'. It is a song driven by a shimmering, arppegiated percussive instrument with a melody played by a piano and various other keyboards. It is an interesting enough son as it is, rather simple and pleasant.

This release is a two sided single that takes Tortoise's 'Ten-Day Interval' and changes it up into two different remixes which are both done by Autechre. The A-side is called 'Adverse Chamber' which is about 6 minutes long. The percussive arpeggios are deeper as are the other sounds, as if everything is done in a lower register. The piano is less conspicuous, but there are more fuzzy electronic sounds evident. It gives everything a more tropical sound. Nothing really seems to stand out much, it just sort of noodles around. The last minute becomes ambient with electronic sounds that linger. The B-side is called 'To Day Retreival' and clocks in just under 4 minutes. This one takes the piano melody and processes the sound to make it more sustained and drone-like. There are some neat sounds and textures on this one which makes it more interesting. I really like this version as it deconstructs the track and makes it new and fascinating.

Both of these tracks are available on Tortoise's rare tracks collection called 'A Lazarus Taxon'. I would suggest getting that collection as it is easier to obtain than this single since it is not available anymore, unless you want to buy it used at an outrageous price. That makes this single obsolete and only for collectors, even though the b-side is quite good. Those that are interested should search out the rarities collection.

 Why Waste Time? by TORTOISE album cover Singles/EPs/Fan Club/Promo, 2010
4.00 | 1 ratings

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Why Waste Time?
Tortoise Post Rock/Math rock

Review by TCat
Prog Reviewer

— First review of this album —
4 stars This is a 4-track EP that was released in 2010, the year following the release of the album "Beacons of Ancestorship". This is a decent EP with just enough rare cuts on it to make any Tortoise fan happy.

The first track is "Ruba'iyat" and is exclusive to this release. It is totally improvised and is recorded during the very first pass- thru in the studio. It's hard to believe it is a one-time pass-thru, since it sounds so perfect. It is made up mostly of percussive instruments and sounds with drone-like tones. It is all performed on two different synthesizers, a modified Suzuki Omnichord and the Folktet "Luminist Garden". There is very little editing involved in the final track. It is a very interesting and syncopated track with a lot of depth.

The next track is "Passerine" and it is also exclusive to this EP. It is made up of samples used by the band in their live shows from various songs. The samples include all pieces from all instruments involved in the band (including vocal samples) and they are all in their original form, but what makes them interesting on this track is that they are all used in different ways and in different pairings from normal, which creates a completely different sound and feeling than from their original sources. They are completely unrecognizable in this form. The resulting sound is very experimental, yet dynamic and interesting. The tone is dark and forboding, and in the end, it is a fascinating piece. It gets rather loud towards the middle, then almost drops off completely before the layers rebuild and deconstruct again. There is no melody here, just sounds, noise and even ambience at times.

"Gigantes" appears next. You might recognize it as a track from the previous album, but this is a remix of the original. There is a nice rhythm here, with a lot more of the percussive sounds and louder hand claps than on the original. There is the sound of a sitar (or something similar) during the first part but it is more of a looped sound than the original, but this gives way eventually to some descending synth sounds. Synths continue to give texture in different tones and feelings through the rest of the track, while the percussion continues giving a constant beat all the way through the track. The distorted guitar solo is missing on this remix though, and that brings it down a bit. Also missing is the processed synth start/stop sound from the original. This remix loses the personality of the original in that it is more repetitive. But it's still not bad.

The last audio track is "Ice Ice Gravy" which was only previously available as an iTunes download. This is a 13 minute track of outtakes from the "Beacons of Ancestorship" sessions. The track fades out and in between ideas the band was working with during the recording of the album. The individual snippets are interesting enough, and actually make this track a fun peek at the "Tortoise" composition process. There are several mini tracks here that definitely sound like something that could have developed into some great pieces if they were fully realized. They range from jazzy to rock and boogie, and any of them could have easily been expanded on. Strangely enough, the track is very enjoyable and intriguing. Think of them as mini-tracks, each lasting around a minute or so.

The entire EP lasts about 30 minutes, but in addition to the 4 tracks, there are 3 videos, 2 of which are live performances, and a music video of "Prepare Your Coffin". Overall, this is loaded for an EP. It is also a worthwhile find, because there is a lot of rare and exclusive material here. Tortoise fans will love this one, especially the insight into the band's inspiration process that is given in the track "Ice Ice Gravy". This is also a good introduction to this ingenious band and would be an excellent addition to any collection.

 Why We Fight by TORTOISE album cover Singles/EPs/Fan Club/Promo, 1995
1.10 | 2 ratings

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Why We Fight
Tortoise Post Rock/Math rock

Review by TCat
Prog Reviewer

1 stars This is a 7" single that was released the year following their debut album. As far as I know, the only album that these two songs appeared on was the collection of rare tracks by Tortoise called "A Lazarus Taxon". It is not easy to find, but you might spot a used copy somewhere out there.

The A Side is "Why We Fight". It is a pretty standard rhythm with a lot of percussive instruments. Bass joins in later and pretty much carries the melody with a guitar. It is quite similar to the debut album, with a no nonsense melody, but the percussion is quite active all the way through it.

The B Side is called "Whitewater". This one is quite experimental, and actually sounds like a backwards song. I wish I had more information on it, but I am pretty sure it's not the backwards version of the A side, because the tone sounds quite different, and the backwards percussion isn't as chaotic as the A side. There is a (mostly) 2-tone alternating drone that follows along.

This is definitely only for completionists. You would be better off getting "A Lazarus Taxon" than trying to track this down. It's not that interesting, but if you are curious enough, get the rare collection instead.

 Tortoise by TORTOISE album cover Studio Album, 1994
3.54 | 41 ratings

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Tortoise
Tortoise Post Rock/Math rock

Review by siLLy puPPy
Collaborator PSIKE, JR/F/Canterbury & Eclectic Teams

3 stars Chicago based TORTOISE were one of the pioneers of the American style of post-rock in the early 90s where they, like others in the breakaway from indie rockers, were interested in experimenting with the hypnotic droning possibilities laid down by the Velvet Underground all the way back in the 60s. While bands like Talk Talk and Slint may have fully nudged the subgenere of rock that utilizes rock instrumentation to create varied timbres and textures outside the confines of traditional rock song structures, bands like Cut de Sac, Labradford, Bowery Electric and TORTOISE are cited as the founders of the American flavored stylistic approach which combined Krautrock with dub, jazz, electronica and minimalism. TORTOISE themselves formed in 1990 when bassist Doug McCombs (from Elventh Dream Day) hooked up with drummer John Herndon and set out to create freelance rhythm sections that took the elements of groove oriented genres such as reggae and add more complex elements.

The results of this experimental approach led to the eponymous debut album by TORTOISE which found a total of five musicians cranking out a plethora of different musical sounds from a veritable army of musical instruments including the usual rock suspects such as bass, guitar and drums alongside vibes, marimba, keyboards, sax, harpsichord and tons of synthesizers and effects. The combo effect of all these sounds delivered in an exclusive instrumental parade of sounds is indeed quite unlike many other artists of the days including other early post-rock bands. While incorporating jazzy elements into the overall hypnotic trajectory of the steady flow of rock led electronically tinged space dub, TORTOISE at this point still hadn't honed their skills to the point of such classics as "Millions Now Living Will Never Die" or my favorite "TNT."

The debut album by TORTOISE is exclusively instrumental and all ten tracks ooze by in the mid-tempo range and in retrospect doesn't come off as anything particularly brilliant since in time TORTOISE themselves would conjure up much more interesting post- rock offerings, but they did garner a lot of attention at the time of this release because of the unusual instrumentation of two bassists, three percussionists and an ample use of vibraphones and marimbas. This album also was released with two album covers, both of which i've somehow accumulated. While both are identical artistically speaking with three dots in three squares on a single colored background, one release shows alternating blue and white coloration while the other is of different shades of tan and brown.

Compared to later efforts, the debut by TORTOISE is a downright lazy affair with a steady groove that never gains very much steam or conjures up a lot of changing it up in the ole dynamics department. While they were successful in garnering the attention they needed in order to create a steady movement beyond the basics, the debut album isn't an album that really stands the test of time as does the following albums. While this is a perfectly satisfying hypnotic groovilistic parade of jazzy dub with Krautrock flavored elements simmering on a low lit pilot light, nothing really erupts into anything memorable either and granted TORTOISE were never known for epic extended jaunts that lead to crescendoes such as Godspeed! You Black Emperor, however they were known for an interesting instrumental interplay that doesn't quite muster up an ecstatic satisfaction level on this one. Not bad by any means but it only gets better from here.

 The Catastrophist by TORTOISE album cover Studio Album, 2016
3.80 | 46 ratings

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The Catastrophist
Tortoise Post Rock/Math rock

Review by Mellotron Storm
Prog Reviewer

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!

 The Catastrophist by TORTOISE album cover Studio Album, 2016
3.80 | 46 ratings

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The Catastrophist
Tortoise Post Rock/Math rock

Review by Neu!mann
Prog Reviewer

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?

 The Catastrophist by TORTOISE album cover Studio Album, 2016
3.80 | 46 ratings

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The Catastrophist
Tortoise Post Rock/Math rock

Review by zravkapt
Special Collaborator Post/Math Rock Team

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.

 The Catastrophist by TORTOISE album cover Studio Album, 2016
3.80 | 46 ratings

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The Catastrophist
Tortoise Post Rock/Math rock

Review by LearsFool
Collaborator Post/Math Rock Team

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.

Thanks to useful_idiot for the artist addition. and to NotAProghead for the last updates

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