It's All Around You
, the fifth album by Chicago sound alchemists Tortoise, marks a return to the consciously beautiful expeditions through realms of jazz, dub and progressive rock last sailed on 1996's peerless Millions Now Living Will Never Die
. Sure, as ever, this remains a band terribly concerned with the more nerdy extremes of studio experimentation and music theory. Time signatures drift with academic intent, silicon laptop whirrs meld inexorably with chiming vibraphone skitter and dubby live rhythms, and John McEntire's production is as fluid and ingenious as ever. But melody is the real key to understanding It's All Around You
: it defines everything here, from "The Lithin Stiffs", a mermaid's lullaby of layered My Bloody Valentine styled vocal harmonies and thrumming, ocean-deep basslines to the driving "Salt the Skies", an energetic, live-sounding Faust-style Krautrock homage. With post-rock's star fading, Tortoise no longer sound quite the startlingly inventive force they once did. But It's All Around You
is the sound of a band playing to their strengths, crafting scintillating sounds out of cerebral set-ups. Dust off those headphones and prepare to be surprised anew. --Louis Pattison
I must admit I've never really understood what all the fuss was about with Tortoise. While some aspects of the music press hailed them as fearless innovators, all I could manage to get out of them was a pale distillation of a lot of things I loved (minimalism, prog rock, jazz, dub, electronica), played with a fashionably postmodern lack of commitment. Some of their music was very lovely, but it was never the revelatory experience that their press might have prepared you for.
The same goes for this latest issue from Chicago's finest, but the lovely bits are, well...lovelier than before. While the previous Standards album was Tortoise's attempt to be a bit angry, It's All Around You returns to the usual blend of influences to produce an album that's by turns blissful and edgy. Our old friend the vibraphone is featured throughout, sprinkling little bursts of melody over the usual cocktail of skittery rhythms, spidery guitars and hazy electronics.
In a way the lush geographies of the cover are a clear statement of intent; here Tortoise pile up layers of shimmering melodies with a faint whiff of exotica. "The Lithium Stiffs" comes closes to space age bachelor pad heaven, with breathy female vocal harmonies laid over warped electronic bossa rhythms. It's the sort of thing you could imagine Air doing if they weren't so gutless. This shifts seamlessly into "The Crest", where a stately (almost John Barry-esque) melody unwinds over slo-mo prog-rockery that almost descends into bombast.
The rest of the record is maybe more typical but no less rewarding; it's (to my ear anyway) a more compositional and texturally rich brew than of old. Guitarist Jeff Parker finally gets a chance to turn his amp up to 11 on the closing "Salt the Skies", though judging by his recent solo album he's still a bit underused in this outfit.
If you're planning building a space age batchelor pad halfway up the Amazon, this'll be the perfect soundtrack for those long summer evenings. --Peter Marsh
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