TORTOISE – Beacons of Ancestorship (2009)

Tortoise - Beacons of Ancestorship It really isn’t worth trying to figure out what made Tortoise’s previous album (2004’s It’s All Around You) so dramatically unappealing. So I won’t get into any ruminations on that topic here, save to say that, in the aftermath of its release, Beacons of Ancestorship (even though the album was, presumably, not yet conceived) quickly became an extraordinarily important album for the band, if for no other reason than to illustrate which future paths the band might walk. And so, I waited patiently, and my patience was rewarded – now that Beacons of Ancestorship is here, I can breathe again, feeling once again safe and comfortable with the band’s future.

Beacons of Ancestorship deftly highlights why the band’s disruptively atypical minimalist approach to their music is as hypnotic as it is: namely, that no one else but them can do it with getting bogged down in the musical doldrums. There’s a little bit of everything on display here – tight krautrock, greasy, elastic synths, worldbeat flourishes, proggy guitar spasms, expansive ambient backdrops and much more (including the use of a Wilhelm Scream on Yinxianghechengqi), all rolled into a collection of songs that are as musically adventurous as they are aurally euphoric (again, a combination that few, if any other bands could attain, let alone sustain). Each song brings with it some new, unanticipated wonder, be it the weird, borderline-ominous swagger that drifts through The Fall of Seven Diamonds Plus One (a song that would make a wondrously villainous motif for Harmony Korine, were he ever to decide to helm an acid western), or the delicate synth pads on de Chelly, a song that would be peaceful if it wasn’t so insistent on plunging itself into dissonance at the most (in)opportune moments (somewhere, John Congleton is smiling).

In addition to being another grand entry into the Tortoise canon, Beacons of Ancestorship also (for better or worse) illuminates what makes Tortoise’s music so inaccessible to some. As a rule, Tortoise don’t deal in direct pathos (something which I confess to love more often than not, particularly when it’s done skillfully, as in the new albums by Mono and maybeshewill), and they don’t fashion empty abstractions masquerading as something deeper, either; they’re always at their best when they’re texture-centric, and thankfully, there’s no better encapsulation of Beacons of Ancestorship than the phrase “texture-centric.”

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One Response to “TORTOISE – Beacons of Ancestorship (2009)”

  1. […] ways you can be evocative in your music: you can turn it into a texture-timbre playground (Tortoise), you can forego all subtlety and swing for the emotional fences (Mono). You can play with dynamic […]

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