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Tortoise - The Catastrophist CD (album) cover

THE CATASTROPHIST

Tortoise

 

Post Rock/Math rock

3.80 | 46 ratings

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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.

zravkapt | 4/5 |

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