TORTOISE – Beacons Of Ancestorship (Thrill Jockey)

It has been so long since Tortoise’s last album that I honestly thought that they had broken up, so it was a real surprise to discover that they have a new album out. At their peak they produced a sublime blend of post rock guitar instrumentals and dreamy soundscapes, and so it was something of a surprise to hear ‘High Class Slim Came Floatin’’ open the album with washes of synth leading into a pleasant guitar solo, before it goes all avant garde with stabs of keyboards and drums wedged into the mid-section, and then storms off towards the end with thundering rhythms and keyboard arpeggios. Not exactly the Tortoise that I know and love, but bloody good all the same. The heavy rock guitar intro of ‘Prepare Your Coffin’ indicates that ‘High Class Slim…’ was not a one-off, and so it looks like we are going to be treated to a much more aggressive hard-shelled little reptile. ‘Northern Something’ is another rhythmic synth-driven piece – short, but saying everything it needed to it its allotted time. ‘Gigantes’ is the first time that I hear the Tortoise of old, with guitar and keyboards blending over a wash of sound, but still with that little extra power that was missing before. ‘Penumbra’ is over almost before it starts, but its off-kilter rhythms and sweeping synth lines make themselves felt before it fizzles out. ‘Yinxianghechengqi’ is a great mash-up of staccato keyboards and discordant guitar, and is over before you can work out how to pronounce it’s title, while ‘The Fall Of Seven Diamonds Plus One’ and ‘Minors’ whisk you back to the classic sounds of ‘Millions Now Living…’. ‘Monument Six One Thousand’ is an atmospheric mix of sythns and delicately plucked guitar, all overlaid with some squelching drum patterns, and ‘Charteroak Foundation’ rounds the album off nicely with a lovely, tuneful example of a classic post-rock guitar-led instrumental. I can’t really say that this is a return to form for Tortoise, as they have ripped up the form and pretty much reinvented themselves. Suffice to say that this is a fantastic album from a band that I am ashamed to say that I had written off as way past their best.
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