Tortoise, Beacons of Ancestorship
Post "post-rock," Tortoise still sound thrillingly hungry and adventurous
In the early '90s, the idea of "post-rock" was a shocking novelty, and Tortoise were the newest of the new: a live band that played precisely composed instrumental music built around percussion and bass (but not dance music, exactly), working from the tradition of electronic music rather than rock 'n' roll, and paying very close attention to tone and rhythm. That's not such a new idea anymore, but the joy of their first album of original material in five years is that they're still pushing forward, assimilating and recasting ideas from artists who've followed them, from Four Tet to TV on the Radio. Beacons of Ancestorship is hungry and adventurous, augmenting the frictionless timbre-juggling they pioneered a decade and a half ago with messy, growling low end.
In 2006, as Tortoise were beginning to write material for this album, they performed their 1996 album Millions Now Living Will Never Die in concert, and some of that epochal record's vibe filtered down to the new material — "The Fall of Seven Diamonds Plus One," for instance, is a sinuous spaghetti-western piece, and "Gigantes" starts out as an elaboration on a resonant hammered-string tone, then bubbles out into clattering cross-rhythms and electronic rips and rumbles that arc back and forth across the stereo field. Beacons' highlights, though, are some of the loudest and heaviest grooves Tortoise has ever played: "Northern Something" is a snarling little synth line, attacked with two drum kits until it snaps to attention, and "Yinxianghechengqi" is a misshapen bass riff examined from every possible angle, run through some cracklingly nasty distortion, and sped up until it shakes to pieces.