A note to all high schoolers out there: you don’t become popular by listening to Tortoise. At the peak of my adolescence, I fell in love with Millions Now Living Will Never Die, Tortoise’s second album. While all my friends were listening to Guttermouth and Pennywise, I was enraptured by the Chicago post-rock group’s instrumental compositions. Songwriting as I knew it had changed, and I was privy to the changing landscape of popular music. Unfortunately, I had no one with which to share this gift, for every mention of the band was met with a resounding “who?”
Alas, Tortoise was for me, and me only. And maybe that’s why they seemed so special. And listening to their latest, It’s All Around You, I was reminded of that time when I had no one to share my musical discovery with. This time around, however, everyone knows who Tortoise is. My friends have Tortoise records. Every critic knows the score. And maybe it’s because of their seeming ubiquity, but listening to the band now doesn’t give me the same rush it did when I was just a lad.
Make no mistake, Tortoise is a talented group and an enjoyable listen. It’s All Around You is every bit as good as any of their previous records, and bears a few surprises as well. It’s All Around You is reportedly the first Tortoise record to feature vocals. This may have been played up a bit too much, however, because while there are vocals, there aren’t lyrics. Kelly Hogan sings harmonically on the hypnotic “The Lithium Shifts,” treating her voice more as an instrument.
“Crest” sees the band enlarging their sound into majestic anthemic landscapes, a device that the band could utilize to their advantage, should they ever be approached by film producers. “Stretch (You Are All Right)” is one of the funkiest songs the band’s ever written. And “Dot/ Eyes” is a delightfully wacky experimental rock song, with its share of odd guitar effects and a galloping brushed drum beat.
It’s All Around You isn’t as magical as Millions, TNT or even 2000’s Standards. But Tortoise doesn’t seem capable of making bad records. The euphoria of my first experience with the band’s music may never be experienced again, but It’s All Around You succeeds in creating a pleasant distraction in the meantime.
Valley of the Giants – Valley of the Giants
Stereolab – Cobra and Phases Group Play Voltage in the Milky Night
Mogwai – Rock Action
Jeff Terich is the founder and editor of Treble. He's been writing about music for 20 years and has been published at American Songwriter, Bandcamp Daily, Reverb, Spin, Stereogum, uDiscoverMusic, VinylMePlease and some others that he's forgetting right now. He's still not tired of it.