Release Date: Jan 22, 2016
Record label: Thrill Jockey
Tortoise have always emphasized their connection to Chicago, and never more so than on The Catastrophist. Arriving six years after Beacons of Ancestorship, its roots date back to 2010, when Tortoise were commissioned to write music inspired by their hometown's jazz and improvised music scenes. Though they fleshed out those compositions for the album, the original project's sense of adventure remains.
Listening from record to record, you’d barely notice most changes in Tortoise’s oeuvre – there’s nothing here quite so forcefully different as the sonic reshuffle that came with 2001’s Standards. Instead, they’ve become beautifully adept at mapping out their own world, whether draping soft chords over gurgling, biomechanical electronics (The Clearing Fills) or traversing the landscapes of kosmische and dub with stuttering breakbeats as their only vehicle (Gesceap). On occasion, this world has felt closed off to visitors, but here the doors are wide open.
With only one minor blip (2004’s less-than-essential It’s All Around You), Tortoise’s output has been remarkably consistent throughout their 25-year career. Early, ground breaking instrumental long players such as Millions Now Living Will Never Die and TNT re-wrote the indie-rock rule book, eschewing conventional song structures and stylistic mores with impeccably played and highly cerebral amalgamations of rock, jazz, dub, electronica, ambient and minimalism. Sixth album The Catastrophist, their first since 2009’s excellent Beacons Of Ancestorship, continues the subtle mutation of their archetypal, genre-busting, post-rock sound.
Head here to submit your own review of this album. Tortoise must be heart-sick of being compared to their animal namesake in reviews by now. But it's just such a great metaphor, isn't it? They don't do things in a hurry, just like a tortoise. And their music is sometimes slow and stately, just like a tortoise.
You always know where you are with Tortoise. Sometimes, being so familiar with a band and its output can put you off ever wanting to investigate further, but with Tortoise, they get their formula just right enough that you instantly know where you are, but it’s never dull. It’s a tricky thing to pull off, but perhaps it’s down to their knack for funnelling their immense musicianship into golden nuggets of avant-pop weirdness.
Arriving almost seven years after 2009's Beacons of Ancestorship, Tortoise's latest picks up basically where the Chicago contemporary alt outfit left off. Mining five loose themes the band assembled for a 2010 City of Chicago commission that had the five-piece design a suite of music in tribute to its association with area jazz and improvisational communities, The Catastrophist is perhaps Tortoise's most germinated release to date, but in practice, it's far from an over-fussed affair. It's another entry from their world of most-things-go instrumental feasts, but in the spirit of the geology theory they align the record with in the title, The Catastrophist finds the five-piece indulging sudden instrumental adjustments and letting those determine the scope and direction of their pieces.
Millions Now Living Will Never Die, the second album by Tortoise, released almost twenty years ago, saw the Chicago five-piece build, and extravagantly so, on the sketchier foundation of their self-titled début. Stretching those shorter dub-heavy experiments to their natural conclusion over the length of the first side, the imposing Djed shifted from cavernous bass through brief stabs at minimalism, systems music and tape-loops. But it was The Taut And Tame – matching the lean discipline of East Coast hardcore to cool vibraphone – which would signpost more clearly the sharp change in direction drummer and producer John McEntire would take next, on 1998’s jazzy career-best TNT.
After the rather expeditious pace with which the band released music in their mid-’90s heydey up into the early 2000s, it has taken Tortoise an unprecedented seven years to release The Catastrophist, a period of time which, starting with their 1994 self-titled debut and concluding with 2001’s Standards, was once enough for them to release four now-classic records (including what are probably their two most revered albums, Millions Now Living Will Never Die and TNT). Still, the band’s resilience has proved nothing short of impressive over the years, exemplified most acutely by the distinctive Beacons of Ancestorship, released in 2009 after a five year recording hiatus (not counting a collaborative covers album featuring Bonnie ‘Prince’ Billy), a record which effortlessly picks up right where Tortoise last left off. Unlike for most bands, long periods of inactivity seem to have little or no effect on the quality of Tortoise’s studio work.
At this point in Tortoise's career, it can be easy to take them for granted. The Chicago quintet's most influential records (Millions Now Living Will Never Die, TNT, Standards) made their marks well over a decade ago, and it's been seven years between their last full-length and The Catastrophist, the band's seventh studio album for Thrill Jockey. But as 2009's Beacons Of Ancestorship proved, Tortoise—who opened new sonic possibilities for instrumental post-rock in the '90s by folding elements of jazz, electronica, techno, dub, lounge and modernist composition into their work—remains willing and able to craft inventive hybrids deep into their career.Tortoise has a habit of musically shapeshifting throughout the course of an album.
Tortoise, the Chicago-based instrumental post-rock quintet, have spent the past 25 years and seven albums fusing dub, jazz, prog, and indie into an instantly recognizable and much-loved trademark sound. The Catastrophist is their first studio album in nearly seven years, and in their time away, Tortoise were commissioned by their hometown to create several suites of music inspired by its storied jazz and improvisational music scenes. Based on this new record, the experience must have been a pivotal one, as The Catastrophist bears a subtle yet marked style change for the band—from sprawling and loose to something more cohesive, but nonetheless experimental enough so as to not alienate their core fans.
Chicago post-rockers Tortoise have been innovating on the outer edge of indie rock for more than two decades, and The Catastrophist, their seventh studio album, proves that they are still finding new ways to approach their craft. Pulling inspiration from jazz fusion and minimalist electronica, Tortoise have always defined what “post-rock” was meant to represent: the sounds and ideas that exist beyond that of standard, blues-based rock and roll, not just the formulaic retreading of slowly building riffs and delay-heavy guitars that has since taken over the genre. Each of Tortoise’s meticulous albums has advanced the conversation of modern indie rock, and The Catastrophist, while not their best or most consistent record, again refuses to take the easy way out.
Post-rock quintet Tortoise hasn't released a new album in six years. It's the longest break the band has taken between albums, but on first listen of The Catastrophist, one could be forgiven for thinking it had only been a year or two. While Tortoise has always been a band to defy easy categorization, on The Catastrophist they make it as difficult as ever, swerving among synthesized minimalism ("Gesceap"), Battles-esque experimental rock ("Shake Hands With Danger"), and gentle indie soul ("Yonder Blue," featuring Yo La Tengo's Georgia Hubley).
Tortoise were matter-of-fact poobahs of a modestly potent Nineties movement dubbed "post-rock," which was pretty much what their elders called "prog-rock," but with beats refreshingly prioritized over wanky virtuosity and way fewer proto-Game of Thrones fantasy-fiction lyrics. (In Tortoise's case, lyrics were largely ditched altogether.) It was an excellent notion absorbed by a generation of attentive musicians, and it holds up on the group's latest LP. Tortoise's anticipation of our retro-electronic-cratedigging-post-everything moment means the palette is less surprising than it once was.
Tortoise, Chicago's oldest post-rock standard-bearers, never had much use for the impressionist and no-wave reference points of their peers, opting instead for smooth jazz, soft drum n' bass, and spaghetti-western soundtracks laid over unexcitable grooves. Pitchfork's William Morris once quipped that their 1998 album, TNT, was an easy-listening album, and indeed, Tortoise's music often sounds like elevator music as performed by a free-jazz combo. This kinship with marginal incidental music continues with The Catastrophist, Tortoise's first album in seven years, on which chiptune music joins the band's palette of cultural detritus.
Tortoise’s sophomore album, Millions Now Living Will Never Die, may have introduced the world to “post-rock” and its attending discourses. As if we ever needed to be reminded, forms of art and mass culture have life-spans. They are born, they live, they pay taxes, they grow old, and they die. It isn’t necessary here to give yet another rendition of what this means.
Two decades and seven albums into its collective career, Chicago’s Tortoise is a genre unto itself: cited as a progenitor of post-rock, and clearly indebted to its home town’s history of improvisers and fusionists, Tortoise is an American underground institution. The Catastrophist, the band’s first LP since 2009, finds the outfit wading through jazz and dub, flirting with rock and funk vernaculars, inverting the concepts of organic and electronic music. Atmosphere and texture are the moving forces behind Tortoise’s motorik thorb, and nowhere does it seem more evident than their reimagining of David Essex’s 1973 hit “Rock On.
There are times when the quality of an album isn't reflected by how much you want to talk about it to your friends, by how many different lyrical subtleties you can draw from it on repeated listens or how many adjectives you can cram into your gushing Sputnik Music review. Sometimes the sign of a great album is reaching its end and having absolutely nothing to say. This is the challenge that presents itself to me when trying to describe The Catastrophist, the latest offering by Chicago post-rockers Tortoise.
Legendary Chicagoans Tortoise are difficult to categorize. They’re frequently pigeonholed as post-rock as an easy way to explain the myriad genres they masterfully combine: ambient, electronica, rock, jazz, etc. The Catastrophist is another shining example of the band’s ability to forge multitudes of different sounds into something new – something singular, that can really only be described as, well, sounding like Tortoise.
At the start of Tortoise in the early '90s, the possibilities seemed infinite. The Chicago band began as outlet for local musicians moonlighting from their jobs in more conventional rock groups. Now a quarter-century into the quintet's existence, there is a "Tortoise sound" — collage-like instrumental music that veers between structured compositions and jazz-like improvisation — and a host of bands around the world who grew up emulating at least parts of it.
It’s entirely apt that Tortoise would release its first album in seven years after two straight weeks when the music world has been thinking and talking about the late David Bowie. It’s not that The Catastrophist is blatantly Bowie-esque, exactly. But there are times—like on the heavy, ominous “Shake Hands With Danger”—where the band’s noisy guitar drone buzzes over pounding drums and jingling xylophones, producing sounds that wouldn’t be out of place on Low or Heroes.
Tortoise — The Catastrophist (Thrill Jockey)Tortoise is a significant ensemble for the many listeners who were first introduced to dub, electronica, etc. or at least the idea all that the things in one’s record collection can be elements in one’s own music. But it’s worth remembering that the group’s formative impulse was one of refusal — Doug McCombs, John Herndon, John McEntire, and long-departed founding member Bundy Brown didn’t want to spend all their time playing loud rock and roll and looking at some guitarist’s butt.
At this stage in their quarter-century or so long career, you could forgive Tortoise a little predictability. Having forged a string of the most enduring albums to have emanated from the Chicago post-rock scene in the early-‘90s, you could understand a little auto-piloting at this juncture. Certainly, if you just judged the record by its cover, with its slightly daft and perfunctory Photoshop amalgamation of the band’s five faces instead of the usual art curating front-sleeve, The Catastrophist could be capturing Tortoise on cruise-control.
The Chicago instrumental band Tortoise put out its first single, “Lonesome Sound,” in 1993, six years before Napster and a decade before the iTunes store, back when you couldn’t get instant vest-pocket aural references about any music under the sun. The group came to include electric guitar, bass, analog synthesizers and percussion — a rock band setup — but beyond that, its music sat in a slow-boil place between composed and improvised music. It used funk and deep grooves from an excellent rhythm section, with up to three drummers, then swerved into severe on-the-beat minimalism.
If last month was teeming with a strong assortment of bouncy electro pop, then this one was chock-full of indie rock releases. Carl wasn't too impressed with most of these month's rock-oriented offerings, including Wolfmother's brazen return, while Juan was somewhat disappointed with those that lean toward an electronic persuasion. In the case of Matmos, maybe he just hates doing laundry.
?Ironies abound on Tortoise’s long-awaited eighth album. After almost a seven year wait, the resulting pent up giddy anticipation for what the quintet might be cooking up in their Soma Studios is finally about to be revealed – and when it arrives it’s as welcome as a punch in the guts. But you knew that, right? It says it on the front cover next to the geeky spectacle-adorned buck-toothed chap – it’s a catastrophe.