Much delayed CD review, but events just keep getting in the way. Now I know how Jon Stewart must've felt writing his book. Sorta. (If you want to get straight to the politics, click here).
Tortoise has been saddled by the music press with the unfortunate designation of the founders of "post rock" (a category that, if you believe the critics, includes Ui, Mice Parade, Cul de Sac and others). In forming the group, the members of Tortoise have maintained their rock sensibilities (members of Eleventh Dream Day and Gastr Del Sol, among others), but abandoned traditional A-A-B-A and verse-chorus-bridge song structures. They took on some of the vibe of jazz and jazz fusion, including,well, the vibes (but without the vapid noodling from fusion); they combined Javanese gamelan with post-production dubbing. All the members are multi-instrumentalists and shift responsibilities from song to song. No vocalist.
On the opening notes of of the title track on their latest disc, It's All Around You, one guitar weaves a characteristically simple line with a little reverb and distortion and a second guitar adds ornamentation. Drums begin a gentle groove with the electric piano, and the vibes enter and after a couple of bars interweave with the guitar. One sound builds upon another.
The final track, "Salt the Skies," starts with walking vibes a la "Vendome" by the Modern Jazz Quartet -- more like sauntering vibes -- which are then interrupted by a roiling bass. The vibes then return, but even though the melody is the same, now with the bass added the mood has shifted into something darker and more forboding. From beginning to end on this disc, Tortoise produces a sound that is always distinctive, whether it's an angular melody on "Crest" or the groove of "Stretch (You Are All Right)." While it is not as adventurous as their earlier discs Millions Now Living Will Never Die or Standards, it is a consistently excellent album and like little else in the record bins.
There are transient moments, like in "Crest," which have the soft pleasantness of John Tesh. The difference, though, is that Tortoise uses those moments to set up tensions in the music or to really rock; when you take out the pleasantness and the noodling from John Tesh's music, on the other hand, all he has left is a very large chin.
Truth be told, my strongest complaint is of the cover art, which looks like an outtake from that Cuba Gooding Jr./Robin Williams sap factory "What Dreams May Come."