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.
I’ve only ever used that phrase once before, by the way, and that was in the review for Braids’ Deep in the Iris album from last year, and in a weird way, The Catastrophist could be a demo of lost Braids instrumentals - all buzzing synths and gnarly bass lines, awkward mathy time signatures and riffy guitars chopping all over the place. This is a good thing, mind.
Their first full length since 2009, the Tortoise of six years on are sounding as tight, inventive and (whisper it) catchy as ever. The 11 tracks here invite you into their strange, timeless world - a little sonic universe populated with vibraphones, jazzy guitar stabs and even jazzier drums.
‘Yonder Blue’ features the always welcome addition of Yo La Tengo’s Georgia Hubley, crooning her beautifully languid, honey drenched voice over a bittersweet little number, whilst elsewhere there’s the remarkable ‘Rock On’, a warped rock song, like a Seventies FM radio slowing down as the battery fades away. As it turns out, though, it's actually a cover of a David Essex song from 1973, with US Maple’s Todd Rittmann playing Essex.
The title track, and especially the synth heavy, Emeralds-esque, 'Gesceap' hint at new pastures, but never abandon the Tortoise sound of old. It makes for an interesting addition to their arsenal, these buzzing square wave synths, but never feels overwrought or added in. Almost as if they were bored in the studio and turned on the equipment that someone had left there.
Keeping a band going for 25 years is no easy task, and there’s not many in the world who can still keep pushing forwards, but without losing what it is about them that’s so unique. Tortoise manage that weirdness, that jazz infused strangeness, and that downright groove that they’ve always traded in, but re-mould it for 2016. No easy feat, but it’s heartening to know that they’ve always been there, plugging on, taking their time and getting it more right than not along the way.
7Gavin Miller's Score