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Tortoise: Beacons of Ancestorship

Tortoise: Beacons of Ancestorship

Label:Thrill Jockey
Release Date:2009

By Lee Gardner | Posted 6/24/2009

Farty synth sounds have their charms, but they aren't the answer to everything. Unfortunately, they seem to be to be something of a default mode for Tortoise on its new album, its first in 5 years. They strut across the halting beat of opener "High Class Slim Came Floatin' In," grind across the Bo Diddley/diddley bow bop of "Northern Something," mark off the stately graduation-march melody of doodle "De Chelly," and bassline the throb of "Monument Six One Thousand." There's probably one lurking in the distorted scrum of ersatz-agitated jam "Yinxianghechengqi." And that's not the only rut the postrock pioneer that once inspired thousands of indie bedsitters with its unusual textures and timbres and wide-open sense of song construction seems to settle into here.

The biggest and most problematic consistency plaguing Beacons of Ancestorship is the just-five-dudes-jamming-in-a-room feel that pervades the compositions. All sense of dubby drop-out and cut-and-paste surprise long gone, the band often seizes on musical tropes and just rides them out: flag-waving fusion ("Prepare Your Coffin"), smoky ballad drag ("The Fall of Seven Diamonds Plus One"), theme from a bad '70s TV mystery series ("Minors"). Even those tracks highlighted by the aforementioned squelchy synths tend to find one idea and stick to it, the exception being "High Class Slim," whose foreshortened mini-suite structure only serves to suffer in comparison to the height of the band's mercurial powers. Oddly enough, the most successful track is the one that most prominently doesn't change at root. Closer "Charteroak Foundation" centers around a measured guitar arpeggio from Jeff Parker that ends up being put through effects and surrounding by a rising, emotionally gyring accompaniment from the rest of the band but never really alters. It's the closest Beacons gets to inspiring.

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