Tortoise It’s All Around You

[Thrill Jockey; 2004]

Rating: 2/5

Styles: egalitarian jam, instrumental
Others: Ativin, Mice Parade, To Rococo Rot

This review will shock some, since Tortoise's last release, Standards, was such an intriguing (and occasionally rocking in a jazz fusion sort of fashion) record, but I have to give my honest reaction to the work in regards to their place in their own catalogue, as well as that of the instrumental post rock canon. As a Tortoise album, it's probably their most antiseptic and uninviting. So for non-completists, this is definitely a somewhat inessential purchase. As for the music itself, there is more depth and emotionality in one of the murky, languid tracks of 1 Mile North's Minor Shadows than in the whole of the pristine and bustling It's All Around You. This is redundant, but I can't say it enough. Tortoise is failing to make waves within their established sound (rhythmically focused with lots of vibes and intricate percussion) or to edge into past areas of more inviting melodic exploration ("In A Thimble," "TNT" or "Spiderwebbed"). This new album is Tortoise contentedly slurping wet grass deep inside their shell.

"Seneca," the raucous opener from Tortoise's preceding LP, alone made me want to keep an eye on Tortoise. It's an innovatively bombastic surge that still somehow manages to transcend the band's sound without completely abandoning it. There are no songs of this caliber on It's All Around You. "Dot/Eyes" contains some nicely propulsive McEntire percussion but fails to coalesce into something worth repeating. For a group as austere as Tortoise, it's not lack of emotion that kills their songs; it's the flatness of their landscape. There are no compelling arch rhythms to cling to amidst the texturally strident music on offer. It's nearly impossible to recommend, considering how their sound has been expanded in much more interesting ways by their peers.

Tortoise have made an album for watering plants in a futuristic atrium with surveillance cameras transmitting to god knows where. Its quasi-lite jazz/new age sheen brings the music dangerously close, at times, to approaching the next Volkswagen commercial demo tape. There's no soul behind the precision. No charming ghosts haunting these nimble, well oiled, organic and electric machines. Whereas Standards and Sonic Nurse (Sonic Youth's stellar LP) show seasoned underground rock groups maintaining their edge while continuing to settle into what they do best, It's All Around You middles about with infuriatingly placid tracks that suggest a fading band merely treading water. A disappointing experience to be sure, but who's to say the group won't turn it around for the next release. Unlike with Sea and Cake's recent output, there's still at least a faint glimmer here of what was good about Tortoise's music in the first place.

1. It's All Around You
2. The Lithium Shifts
3. Crest
4. Stretch (You Are All Right)
5. Unknown
6. Dot/Eyes
7. On the Chin
8. By Dawn
9. Five Too Many
10. Salt the Skies