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Tortoise - It's All Around You

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Artist: Tortoise

Album: It's All Around You

Label: Thrill Jockey

Review date: Apr. 28, 2004

Tortoise's inception ten years ago shot an RPG into an American independent music scene whose blast took a bit of time to clean up. Instead of exploring the more traditional sounds of a rock-oriented band, the group looked elsewhere, incorporating elements of jazz, dub, world, and electronic music into their sound. Had the now bloated and somewhat useless term "post-rock" not existed at that point, Tortoise's birth as a creative entity would have necessitated it. Their endless studio tinkering and rotating line up culminated with Millions Now Living Will Never Die, a neat summation of everything that had come before and also a blueprint for what was to follow. They had tipped their hand early, which isn't to suggest that the ensuing TNT and Standards were sub-par efforts. Those albums' forays into more nuanced electronic and jazz figures were still entirely worthwhile, kept afloat partially by personnel changes that subtly nudged the group in different directions.

It's All Around You is Tortoise's fifth long-player, and it's worth noting that it is the first record the group has ever recorded without a lineup change. While for other groups this might be a good sign, for Tortoise it contributes to a sense that the group is often treading water.

Still, It's All Around You has its moments. Fellow Chicagoan Kelly Hogan supplies the group's first foray into vocal territory, adding a breathy chant to the droning keys and bubbling electronic and acoustic percussion on "The Lithium Stiffs." These elements segue nicely into the opening climax of "Crest," in which Tortoise explores simple guitar melodies and aching synth lines to excellent effect. "Dot/Eyes" feels positively frenetic by comparison, with urgent drums opening against echoing guitars that ebb and flow over the course of the track. "Salt the Skies" ends the album on overdrive, piling melodic guitar lines over noisy electronics to bring the disc to a close.

Unfortunately, though, there are those moments in which Tortoise's constituent parts don't manage to cohere very well. "Stretch (You Are All Right)" allows the faux hip-hop of its back beat to do too much talking, while none of the other elements at work here take hold over the listener. "On the Chin" wanders in search of the ultimate atmosphere, ultimately passing by without ever really establishing itself. "Five Too Many" begins with a promising percussive figure, but the groove never develops, as the band rushes through a vibe and guitar accompaniment that feels forced.

While nothing on TNT or Standards was as influential as Tortoise's earlier work, those records succeeded largely because they marked new stylistic departures for a group that sounded genuinely excited by that prospect. Too many moments on It's All Around You lack that excitement, and Tortoise instead seems more self-conscious, following directions already established in their back catalogue.

By Michael Crumsho

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