Tortoise – Beacons Of Ancestorship – album review
For just under two decades now, Tortoise have been experimenting with popular music. Their freeform, sound-experiment style has quietly given them the status of post-rock musicians experimenting with electronic music.
So in a time where groups like Holy Fuck and Battles and artists like Dan Deacon are lauded for pushing the boundaries of conventional song structures whilst blending rock instruments with electronic invention, why is it that Tortoise rarely get mentioned as their forbearers? (I don’t know by the way, in case you were hoping I was going to answer that)
On their sixth full-length album, Beacons of Ancestorship, Tortoise again take their place in this genre of freeform song experiments, and again show why they must be considered along with the most interesting and influential in the field. The tracks blend interesting rhythms with at times very loose sounds, and often much tighter ones. ‘Northern Something’, for instance, plays with the texture of sound more than its melody, whilst the stunning ‘Gigantes’ uses synths to create the same sorts of shimmering melodies that gave Boards of Canada so much success.
Tortoise are usually known to traverse an encyclopaedia of styles, and Beacons Of Ancestorship is certainly a an album of very separate songs – like albums used to be. And like those albums they all possess a unifying essence, but unlike them, it is not through voice. This is a telling indicator of the success of Tortoise’s artistic vision. Here, vocals and conventional song structure and length aren’t needed; music can be created another way.
The result is an album of sonically rendered moods. The wonderful ‘Minors’ blindly pushes its way through monotony and resignation, ‘Yinxianghechengqi’ screams in a apoplectic rage before falling into a glitchy, speechless, hopeless spasm; ‘High Class Slim Came Floatin’ In’ emanates shiny arrogance from all its pores.
Tortoise must surely take their place at the forefront of the sound-experiment groups that keep arising. This is, once again, a wonderful demonstration of how frozen in convention music-making has become, and how far it can still be pushed, moulded and manipulated to speak in a different voice – one that is not necessarily human.