April 22, 2004

Test Spin: Tortoise

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Tortoise has always been about musical prowess. Their latest album, It’s All Around You, is a testament to their ability to spin delicately powerful webs of cycling vibraphone-guitar melodies and interlocking rhythms. As Tortoise’s most epic and coherent release to date, It’s All Around You seemingly melts songs into each other, with climaxes segueing into new beginnings, the lush swells of certain tracks anticipating the bull rush of others. Rounded out by the typical Tortoise crystalline production, this record is in many ways the band’s strongest technical achievement. But, somewhere in of all their surgical precision, the band, much to their detriment, sacrifices the raw intensity of their previous works.

Tortoise might have sharpened their production techniques and expert sequencing, but in their slight transformation, they misplaced their magnetically funky vibe. Granted, the fury of instrumental rock might seem slight to those with a predilection for punk, but for those acquainted with the Chicago quintet’s ways, the difference between It’s All Around You and Standards or TNT is quite revealing.

As much as the group explores new sonic textures, for the first time using vocal samples (“Lithium Stiffs”) and sweeping flutters of strings (“Crest”), Tortoise delivers more of a languid push than a dynamic punch. It’s All Around You might be an excellent Tortoise album, but it lacks the infectious excitement of a release that takes risks. The band plays it safe. They’ve given us an album we knew they were fully capable of creating. I only wish they hadn’t.

Archived article by Andrew Gilman
Red Letter Daze Staff Writer