If I had been introduced to the music of Tortoise twenty years ago as an impressionable teenager, it is highly likely I would have dismissed Tortoise as nothing more than 1970’s jazz rock noodling or – less articulately (and possibly more likely) – as “boring”. However, with age comes a tolerance for new ideas and subtleties and since hearing ‘Millions Now Living Will Never Die’, the group have become the kind of outfit I buy records of, knowing that they will satisfy my curiosity. ‘Beacons Of Ancestorship’ is their first album in five years.
As with most of Tortoise’s best moments, it’s the finer details that get noticed. On opener ‘High Class Slim Came Floatin’ In’, the crisp drumming is pitched superbly for maximum interest and signs off in a Stereolab-like Krautrock loop. ‘Prepare Your Coffin’ also relies on metronomic rhythms but this time they’re joined by a sense of urgency in both the melody and the yearning guitars. ‘Minors’ and the finale ‘Charteroak Foundation’ are further examples of the tuneful side to this Chicago-based quartet.
Far from being prog-rock revivalists, Tortoise regularly embrace new influences. In fact, such are the modern hip-hop inflections for ‘Northern Something’ I was half expecting M.I.A. or Dizzee Rascal to start rapping over them. Perhaps wisely they didn’t, or at least it’s not been recorded. Stylistically ‘Gigantes’ is all over the place but it’s a credit to the tight musicianship of the band members that they join the disparate layers into something compelling and cohesive. Only ‘Yinxianghechengqi’ loses its way; a rather unlistenable jazz rock mess that’s as unwieldy as its title.
Whilst never really threatening to set a new agenda, ‘Beacons Of Ancestorship’ is a classic case in proving that prog-rock or post-rock doesn’t have to be boring or self-indulgent at all. Instead it can be taut, concise and frequently edifying.
Stereolab, Jaga Jazzist