Tortoise - It's All Around You (Thrill Jockey, 2004)
Tortoise is an interesting band, standing at the nexus of rock and roll, jazz and electronic music, but fitting easily into none of the above categories. This Chicago instrumental group continues to defy categorization and expectation with their new album. The record begins with the title track, opening with a slinky drumbeat groove mixed with electric guitar. Electronic beats and cool vibraphone also keep things pretty upbeat.
Things slow down with "The Lithium Shifts," which, as can be expected by the title of the piece has a subtle narcotic quality. Electronic beats open the music with sampled voices moaning wordless vocals. There's light drifting feel to the music. Things become a little more urgent with "Crest" which introduces darker piano chords, and more aggressive prog-rock like electronics. Synthesized strings add some more texture to the piece, lending the music an almost symphonic quality. "Stretch" and "Salt the Skies" attempt to pick up the pace a little bit by adding elements of funk to the mix, but things never quite leave the cerebral realm to become danceable. "Dot/Eyes" takes the fastest pace of the album with heavy percussion mixing live drums and electronic percussion. Sampled voices are added again and the whole proceeding takes on an ominous urgency before stopping abruptly - a strange ending for a song that seemed to be building so forcefully.
There is some music that is described as "aural wallpaper" something that while not unpleasant, never jumps out of the background to command your attention. That's really where this album lies - pleasant background music, whose true potential will be released when Tortoise performs live, improvising with and manipulating the music to create something new out of the seeds of music presented here.
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