Tortoise (Doug McCombs interview and albums guide)

Tortoise

Tortoise

Despite nearly two decades of activity, Chicago’s Tortoise continue to sustain an awkward yet alluring sense of mystery.  Consequently, for many it has become all too easy to define Tortoise by well-merged collective influences (Miles Davis, Can, Kraftwerk, Neu!, John Fahey, Ennio Morricone, Gang Of Four, Augustus Pablo, Brian Eno, Tom Verlaine, Talking Heads, etc.), the multiple side-projects entwined in the group’s extended family-tree (Brokeback, Chicago Underground Quartet, Isotope 217, Pullman, Directions, A Grape Dope, The Sea & Cake, ad infinitum) and the artists that have been directly/indirectly inspired by the ensemble’s experimental explorations (Mogwai, Fridge, Four Tet, Billy Mahonie, Mice Parade, State River Widening, Animal Collective et al.). 

It remains hard for many of us to identify what truly makes Tortoise tick as a standalone entity.  Some of this may be down the lack of an obvious leader, which leads observers to make unconvincing hypotheses about the quintet’s amalgamated and individual personalities.  Although never openly shunning media interrogation, Tortoise’s relative taciturnity has all too often led to allegations of aloofness and arrogance after being coronated with the pigeon-holing crown of ‘post-rock’.  Such assumptions may also come from a place of jealously, for few other music-makers have been blessed with Tortoise’s enduring creative run, that has spawned six distinctive studio albums and countless extracurricular releases without the interference of overbearing record labels or the need to pander to critical expectations.  To whit, Dan Bitney, John Herndon, Doug McCombs, John McEntire and Jeff Parker continue to prosper as a closely-bound unit, regardless of external interactions. 

No more telling is the band’s new full-length album, Beacons Of Ancestorship, a collection that defiantly celebrates Tortoise for just being Tortoise.  Once again though, it doesn’t entirely explain what makes the combined Tortoise DNA swirl into action, which is why it’s still worth trying to scratch through the surface by conversing with affable lynchpin bassist/guitarist Doug McCombs, about the ensemble’s artistic mechanics, his own multifarious commitments (Eleventh Dream Day, Brokeback, fFLASHLIGHTS) and the Tortoise back catalogue. 

Although we’ve become accustomed to the gaps between regular Tortoise albums being quite extended since Standards, what took you so long this time around, besides the Bonnie ‘Prince’ Billy covers collaboration and compiling the rarities box set?  Where you working on the new one continuously or in piecemeal bursts?

We’ve been working on it in fairly regular bursts for the last three years or so, but only began to feel happy/confident about the results in the last year. We’ve thrown out or drastically reworked about 90% of the material that we started. We spend a lot of time – sometimes an uncomfortable amount – waiting for the breakthrough that is going to make the album have its own cohesive identity.

Is it the case, as with most Tortoise albums, that the original aims and objectives were turned on their heads as the writing and recording process evolved?  For instance, when interviewing Jeff Parker after It’s All Around You, he declared his desire to draw things away from rhythm-driven directions…

We will often try to push a song in a direction that seems less obvious or impractical in order to see if the results are interesting. Sometimes that leads to a dead end but other times it can set the tone for the whole album. Most of our songs end up being quite different than what was originally intended.

Crudely and broadly speaking, Beacons Of Ancestorship feels like a harmonious marriage of TNT’s eclecticism and the melodic structures It’s All Around You, would you accept that as a fair assessment?

I suppose that’s fair to say. To be honest I haven’t really thought of it in comparison to our other albums. I definitely wanted Beacons Of Ancestorship to feel rougher around the edges than It’s All Around You.

How does the compositional process work for you as a group these days and how has it evolved over the years?  Is all strictly ‘by committee’ or are some ideas generated individually to be fleshed out by the group?  For instance, “The Fall of Seven Diamonds Plus One” on the new LP seems like it only could have come from your personal penchant for Morricone twang, that you’ve heavily explored on your Brokeback records…

It’s pretty much how you describe it and everything in-between. The members of the band all bring in ideas some of which are fully composed and some of which are nothing more than a rhythm or melody. Then we work them out by committee, injecting our own ideas or suggesting changes if there’s some element of it that we don’t like.

“Seven Diamonds” also makes me think of Tom Verlaine’s Warm And Cool, reissued a few years ago on Thrill Jockey.  Is that record a favourite of yours and have you had any fresh contact with the man himself since he’s become a labelmate?  I remember you being acquainted with him when you were in the same studio for the recording of Eleventh Dream Day’s El Moodio, way back when…

Warm And Cool is definitely a favourite of mine. I’ve had contact with Verlaine a number of times over the years, most recently the last time he played in Chicago, but we’ve never had a conversation. He seems pretty shy/private. All of my bands owe him a lot. I guess that could be potentially embarrassing for both of us.

The most urgent-sounding tracks like “Prepare Your Coffin” and “Gigantes” remind me a lot early-Can and Neu! whilst the more electronic cuts like “Monument Six One Thousand” and “de Chelly” echo ’70s Kraftwerk in my mind.  Would you acknowledge the influence of such Krautrock pioneers here and on earlier Tortoise records?

It’s safe to say that German bands of the ’70s have had a lasting effect on us. At this point in our career we’ve gotten to the place where sincere imitation would be considered a cop-out. We’re usually trying to subvert those impulses and push any given piece of music away from the things we think it sounds like.

“Yinxianghechengqi” makes me think of a remixed Jesus Lizard; could it be the most savage and rocking piece you’ve done together?  Incidentally, just where did that strange title come from?! 

Yeah, it’s probably the most rocking thing we’ve done, certainly the most sloppily garage-ish. The title is a Chinese word whose meaning is sadly lost to the dust of time.

What’s the story behind the unusual concept of following the new album by releasing a series of 5″ records? 

Tortoise (left to right): John McEntire, Dan Bitney, Jeff Parker, Doug McCombs & John Herndon

Tortoise (left to right): John McEntire, Dan Bitney, Jeff Parker, Doug McCombs & John Herndon

The 5 inch concept is meant to accomplish a few things. First off, when constrained by time – as in the amount of time that will fit on the format, the shorter deadline in order to release these in a timely fashion, etc. – we become a slightly different band. The results are sometimes surprising, much like our tour singles, compilation tracks, etc. Secondly, we are trying to approach these as collaborations, so that will make us think about things differently too. Finally, we’re looking at this project as a way to remain creative between albums so that maybe we can go into a new album sooner and break the four year lull. We’re still hashing out the logistic details of the project, so it may be a little while before the first one is ready to go.

Were you happy with how the A Lazarus Taxon rarities boxset was conceived and received? 

I was really happy with the way it turned out. It made me slightly nervous to have all of those cool tracks floating around out there uncompiled. I realize it diminished some of the ‘specialness’ of the original recordings, but it was important to us to make that material available to people at an affordable price. All of that stuff was either out of print or impossible to find.

When compiling the box, did you feel any regret that gems like “Gamera,” “Whitewater” and “Why We Fight” never made it on to a normal album or were you happy for them to exist as ‘buried treasures’?

No, I’m happy to have them exist the way that they do, especially now that they’re compiled.

Would you ever consider compiling an official Tortoise live album, given how different the live interpretations can be and the number of bootlegs floating around the internet?

We’ve talked about releasing an official live “bootleg”. None of us are too excited about listening to live recordings of the band. It can be painful to listen to yourself play out of the context of the moment. The DVD portion of the box set is some of the best live stuff we could dig up. Even some of that is hard to watch but warranted release because it documented a one-time event.

Given the lengthy pauses betwixt Tortoise albums and the fact you tour a lot less than in the early days, are you all still able to make a living from music, especially with the threats imposed by illegal downloading and the like? 

Well, the time between albums is just the way it has to be unless we make some breakthrough in our creative process. We tour as much as we can given that two members of the band have children. It’s a catch-22 for the guys with kids because touring is an important source of income for us – and especially them – but it’s harder for them to be gone for long periods of time.

Do you get a lot of financially-rewarding requests for your music to be used in films and on TV?

Soundtrack work has eluded us thus far, all but in the smallest ways. No great source of income there yet.

Compared to the period from the mid-’90s and into early years of the new millennium, the band doesn’t seem to have as many side-projects on the boil.  Is this really the case and, if so, have you collectively cut-back for domestic obligations or for creative-focus reasons?

We’re probably all busier now with non-Tortoise projects than we were in the ’90s. I am for sure. We’re all pretty much trying to be musicians for the long haul, so we’re doing as much as we can without going crazy or diluting the quality of output.

Do you think that the relative reduction in the number of Tortoise-connected groups and releases on the label has allowed Thrill Jockey to more easily harvest a new generation of interesting artists and become less Chicago-centric? 

Thrill Jockey was never meant to be solely for Tortoise projects. Bettina has always sought to find interesting music that needed a label. She has been supportive of and interested in most of our non-Tortoise projects which is probably why it seems that there are a disproportionate amount of them on the label. Now more than ever there seem to be a lot of the type of musicians that she loves to work with looking for a place to release their music.

Given your experiences of working in a record store, your healthy reliance on a long-running independent label and the somewhat minimalist use of your band website, do you think that the more traditional structures of the independent music industry are the ones that best suit your creativity and engagement with your audience?

Well, I have to admit that the way I prefer to operate is to sell records and play shows. The selling records part of that equation seems to be over. I have no insight into how the transition to digital disbursement should be made.  Love to play shows.

Speaking now of your own specific extra-curricular endeavours, I see that there’s a solo-monikered Doug McCombs record on Thrill Jockey’s forthcoming list.  What can we expect on that album?  Does it mean the end of Brokeback?

That is actually a release by David Daniell and Douglas McCombs, no group name as of yet.  Brokeback will do something eventually.

Is it an instrumental affair and when might it see the light of a release day?

My and David’s album is instrumental. It’s improvised guitar music with guest drummers on some tracks. Release date set for some time in August.

How is your other fairly new group with Chris Brokaw, fFLASHLIGHTS, developing?  Are we likely to hear something studio-generated anytime soon? 

fFLASHLIGHTS has been almost completely inactive for over a year. It was meant to be the sort of rock band that could play at a moment’s notice if your friend’s band wanted to do a show or somebody dropped off of a bill, etc. That’s hard to achieve when one of you lives 1000 miles from the other two. Not sure what’s going to happen. We have some recordings that may eventually see the light of day.

As you know, I’m a big fan of Eleventh Dream Day, but I’ll confess to being slightly underwhelmed by Zeroes And Ones, perhaps because it seemed less democratic and not as rough-sounding as Stalled Parade.  How do feel about Zeroes And Ones now it’s been out a while?

Zeroes and Ones sounds great to me. We played live a lot after it came out and it was rocking.

Will you be keeping us waiting as much as you did between Stalled Parade and Zeroes And Ones for the next EDD LP?

Rick [Rizzo] has a lot of new songs that he’s antsy to work on. Looks like I won’t have much time for that until winter.

Tortoise

Tortoise

Do you still consider Tortoise as your ‘full-time band’ as you once said to MAGNET magazine? 

Tortoise has become the ‘full time’ band by default. Besides the fact that it may be the most creatively rewarding for most of us, it’s also the most popular. I’m not sure the other guys in Tortoise even think of it in those terms, but it pays the bills.

Apart from the early comings and goings of Bundy K. Brown, David Pajo and Jeff Parker, do you think that the long-established five-man latter-day line-up has helped sustain the Tortoise towards a twentieth birthday? 

This line-up is over 10 years old, and it’s the one that works. Barring some major life crisis, I don’t see anything changing soon.

Do you have any idea what Bundy K. Brown is up to these days? 

Bundy K. Brown is a buyer for Dusty Groove and is working on a family. He’s not doing any music currently, but always has some idea brewing.

How conscious are you that Tortoise could be a finite thing, given the creative impasses that you’ve touched upon?

Creative impasses are a challenge for us. They can be frustrating but they eventually lead to the albums that we make. I think we can play together for a long time. We don’t have many personality conflicts and those that we do have are so minor that they barely deserve mention… and I never would.

 

Tortoise – An Albums Guide:

Here follows a semi-exhaustive trawl – featuring further interlocution with Doug McCombs – through the main entries in Tortoise’s back catalogue; excluding double-billed collaborative releases, Japanese-only compilations and material not covered by 2006’s obscurities anthology, in the interests of relative brevity.

Tortoise (Thrill Jockey/City Slang, 1994)

Tortoise

Tortoise

Had not an eponymous title been chosen for the first full-length Tortoise release, then The Rhythm Section’s Revenge might have been an appropriate anointment.  Building on the combined experiences of powering the engine rooms for the likes of Eleventh Dream Day, The Sea And Cake, Bastro and Gastr Del Sol, The Poster Children and Tar Babies, Tortoise finds two adroit bassists (Doug McCombs and Bundy K. Brown) and three nimble percussionists (John Herndon, John McEntire and Dan Bitney) expressing the equations of an art-rock super-group that conveniently forgot to invite singers and lead guitarists into the studio.  Sunk in murmurous low-end – as if it were recorded in the bowels of a submarine or in a subterranean rehearsalroom – this debut LP redefined both its players’ abilities and the artistic ambitions of the Chicago scene circling around it.  Not that it necessarily provided anything shockingly new but its channelling of arcane and retro-futuristic sonic idioms allowed for a low-key celebration of the medium as well as the message.  Through distended slow-mo funk (“Magnet Pulls Through Air” and “Spiderwebbed”), the agit-dub diversions of Gang Of Four’s Solid Gold (the sole barely-there-vocal track “Night Air”), soloist-free minimalist jazz (“Ry Cooder”), rubbery tropicalia (“On Noble”), analogue electronica (“Onions Wrapped In Rubber”), Fripp & Eno-indebted ambient (“His Second Story Island”), Morricone twang set to heartbeat-like throbbing (“Flyrod”) and steadily uncoiling discordance (“Cornpone Brunch”), this is still an album blessed with ideas masterfully stolen and cleverly reshaped.  It may take dozens of deep spins to identify all these referenced elements but this self-titled starter selection is crucial to the Tortoise story, even if it’s not necessarily the best introductory-point for the uninitiated.

What key factors brought the band together originally and led to the cutting of the first album?

The band came together over the course of a few years, [with] initially John Herndon and myself working on the first two 7 inches and then [John] McEntire and [Bundy] Brown adding some of their ideas after we had recruited them to play live. Our first two live shows were a year apart. By the time we started working on the first album the band was the four of us and we went to the studio with some bass-lines that Bundy and I had written. Dan [Bitney] got in the band by just showing up at the studio – understand of course that he was a friend of ours. The main factor was really just the willingness to do it and the availability of cheap – or free – studio time.

Millions Now Living Will Never Die (Thrill Jockey/City Slang, 1996)

Millions Now Living Will Never Die

Millions Now Living Will Never Die

After a slew of one-off singles, remixes and compilation appearances, the departure of Bundy K. Brown (to concentrate on Pullman, Directions, Gray Market Goods and prodigious remix commissions) and the arrival of ex-Slint guitarist David Pajo, it was somewhat inevitable that the sophomore Millions Now Living Will Never Die would mark a large leap forward creatively and commercially.  The record is dominated – perhaps overly so – by the opening 20 or so minutes of “DJed,” which ostentatiously provides a ‘post-everything’ answer to ilk of Pink Floyd’s guiltily-pleasurable “Echoes.”  So segmented in its slide through chugging Krautrock, prowling dub, fidgety electronics and percussive shimmering, the dizzying “DJed” could easily have been three or four separate pieces; but then that could almost have been too easy for a quintet sharpened by multi-instrumentalist adaptability, steely determination and a subtle sense of mischief.  Once you get past “DJed” though, Millions reveals a less bravado-fuelled attention to detail that paints its five remaining miniatures with gentler and more sincere brushstrokes.  The gorgeously languid “Glass Museum” could be Fleetwood Mac’s “Albatross” redone for a modern art installation; the threatening “A Survey” and the skittering “The Taut And Tame” provide menacing counterpoints ripe for cinematic deployment; the watery burble of “Dear Grandma And Grandpa” swims in oceanic soundscapes; and the spaghetti-western-shaped “Along The Banks Of Rivers” is a dreamy end credits bookend.  Notwithstanding its somewhat top-heavy sequencing and the legions of returns-diminishing copycat acts it inspired, Millions continues to contain magic that will never slip off the audio mortal coil.

Were you surprised just how successful it was at the time and how influential it became?

I guess I’m not that surprised. I knew that we’d be an interesting band if nothing else. As far as influential… ‘influential’ albums don’t just appear from nowhere. Millions was the result of the five of us – six if you include Bundy’s participation up to that point – really stretching out for the first time having already played in bands for 10 or 15 years. And most of those bands were pretty great in their own right. There were a lot of bands emerging from the same 15 years of underground music that we had and I think some of that ‘influence’ that we had might be chalked-up to similar experience. Most members of Tortoise will tell you that Millions is not our best album.

TNT (Thrill Jockey/City Slang, 1998)

TNT

TNT

With guest strings/brass players and the recruitment of jazz-trained guitarman Jeff Parker, 1998’s TNT expanded on the palette of Millions tenfold, to fashion the most richly-diverse and longest Tortoise LP to date.  At times it’s a tad too broiling with stylistic stretching – as the misjudged and now-dated drum ‘n’ bass misfires of “Almost Always Is Nearly Enough” and “Jetty” attest – but overall TNT is a bounteous treasure-finding trip, featuring twinkling Tortoise gems that are almost too numerous to mention.  From the filmic space-jazz grooves of the opening title-track and “Swung From The Gutters” via the fertile percussion-led landscapes of “Ten-Day Interval” and “Four-Day Interval,” inside the plaintive pastoral-dub of “I Set My Face To The Hillside,” within the electro-burbling of “The Equator” and through to the melodic bass-driven bliss of “The Suspension Bridge At Iguazú Falls,” TNT is arguably the best all-round Tortoise collection to be grabbed by fans in an emergency or for those looking to penetrate the band’s sometimes impervious bubble for the first time.

As your longest LP, do you think that it almost had too many ideas – albeit good ones – to contain in just one album?

TNT is long. It had to be long. We were in a really creative period; we had a million ideas and were not willing to give up on any of them.

Standards (Thrill Jockey/Warp Records, 2001)

Standards

Standards

Released after a now customary in-between-album delay, Standards seemed to find Tortoise’s rolling momentum dissipating significantly, possibly due to the departure of David Pajo (to focus on his Aerial M/Papa M endeavours), the remainder of the band immersed in mushrooming side-projects (Isotope 217, Brokeback, A Grape Dope, production/mixing work) and a switch to a supposedly hipper label for European licensing (Warp Records).  A somewhat self-conscious collection, Standards now feels like an admirably flawed attempt to trim the fat of TNT, to make a tighter more rock-orientated set.  Unfortunately, the slimming-down process left Standards as a whole sounding too austere and gaunt, from the truncated track-titles inwards.  Having the triple-jointed drumming of Messrs McEntire, Bitney and Herndon hemmed in by over-processed studio sheen is arguably the most recognisable impediment.  That said however, there are some individual peaks that burst through the synthetic crust after some patient but not too intense listening.  The searing sea-changing “Seneca” stands up well; with its initial freeform skin-beating and mangled guitar/bass clang evolving into a convincing mesh of handclaps and digital twitching.  The eerily minimalist “Firefly” seems like it belongs on McCombs’ first Brokeback record, which is no bad thing at all.  Despite – or perhaps because of – its retro-electro R2D2-referencing bleeps, “Eros” supplies a sense of humour missing from the rest of the long-player.  Elsewhere, “Six Pack” feels like a decent TNT outtake with a reliably warm McCombs bass motif burning at the core.  The aforementioned production aesthetics aside, the most embarrassment comes from the nauseating vocoder-led noodling on “Monica” and the jazz-fusion twiddling at the beginning of “Eden 2”.  All in all, Standards is certainly the least essential Tortoise album, although it’s far from being a bona fide disaster.  Some fans love it to bits however; as the recent fast selling-out vinyl reissue seemed to suggest.

Why do you think it is the least-loved Tortoise LP in some quarters?

I’m not sure it is the least loved. I love it.

It’s Around You (Thrill Jockey, 2004)

It's All Around You

It's All Around You

With the relative iciness of Standards thawed-out, Tortoise’s belated return to the fray with 2004’s It’s All Around You proved to be a balmy and redemptive reawakening.  Meticulously-crafted without being over-produced and built with the tunefulness of Millions and TNT, this fifth studio set is certainly one of the group’s strongest and most memorable long-players.  It’s worth the admission price for the opening quartet alone; the joyously chiming titular cut, the sultry percolating “The Lithium Stiffs” (with guest ululations from alt. country chanteuse Kelly Hogan), the epic yet unpretentious neo-progging  “Crest” and the rubbery funk of “Stretch (You Are All Right).”  Further in, the edgy “Dot/Eyes” builds layer-upon-layer of rhythmic tension; “On The Chin” contributes some calming serenity; “By Dawn” stirs in some subtle dubtronic gloom; and “Salt The Skies” captures the quintet gloriously galvanised in ebbing from plaintive jazz to free-flowing post-punk rawness.  There is a sense with It’s All Around You that Tortoise had nothing left to prove to the cutting-edge intelligentsia, allowing the focus to shift on to ingrained gifts for melody as well as rhythm.

Do you think that it’s your most deliberate and concisely-bound collection?

Actually, I think Standards is our most concise and deliberate record. It’s All Around You is the first record where we continued with similar themes of construction as the previous.

A Lazarus Taxon rarities boxset (Thrill Jockey, 2006)

A Lazarus Taxon

A Lazarus Taxon

Whilst some artists are guilty of only using rarities compendiums to plug prolonged gaps between new releases, in the case of Tortoise it was more criminal that non-album oddments were still floating in eBay hell, giving late-coming fans incomplete access to the full Tortoise career narrative.  Although heavily-weighted with multiple remixes and radical reconstructions (including the whole of 1995’s rare Rhythms, Resolutions & Clusters remix LP), there is some truly terrific hard-to-find material rescued on 2006’s 3CD/1DVD boxset, A Lazarus Taxon.  Highlights include the 11-minute electro-acoustic magnificence of “Gamera,” the murky synth and drum crackle of “Whitewater,” the head-spinning “Why We Fight,” the awesome Joy Division tribute “As You Said,” the sound collage cut ‘n’ paste of “Cliff Dweller Society” and the mysterious “Deltitnu.”  The DVD is useful in giving visual evidence of Tortoise in the live realm and for gathering-up a few curious arty promo films, but it might have been better to have swapped it for another CD of left-behind off-cuts, like the group’s first two 7″ EPs (one featuring McCombs’ underused dolorous pipes), a few miscellaneous compilation contributions, some/all of the Millions-era 12″ remix series and possibly some choice live cuts (such as the intriguing cover of Gang Of Four’s “Paralyzed” that has featured on bootlegs from early-years shows).  But that’s geeky nitpicking really, because A Lazarus Taxon is still a generous and utterly indispensable Tortoise artefact.

Why do you think you were so fond of remixing and totally rebuilding many of the early tracks?

Early in Tortoise we were working on the idea of the composition being open-ended. As the band progressed our songs became more self-contained and we became less interested in the remix.  Also, in the late-nineties – previously also, I’m sure – the idea of the remix had turned into this scam to sell the same material over and over. We kind of recoiled from that.

Beacons Of Ancestorship (Thrill Jockey, 2009)

Beacons Of Ancestorship

Beacons Of Ancestorship

Perhaps the most unexpected thing about Tortoise’s sixth studio album is just how much good fun it is.  Whether a reaction to the rigorous finesse applied to It’s All Around You or carrying forward the warped spirit found in collaborating with Bonnie ‘Prince’ Billy for 2006’s The Brave And The Bold covers collection, Beacons Of Ancestorship belies the group’s age with a youthful exuberance that is consistently entertaining.  Bouncing along with loose live-flavoured percussion, fizzing primitive synths and intuitive bass/guitar interplay, Beacons is possibly the most free-range yet economical set in the Tortoise album discography.  Admittedly, there is nothing too earth-shatteringly innovative within and the teenage-kicking gusto does dissipate a little towards the end but there are many genuinely delicious dishes served-up for fan-friendly gorging.  With the opening robo-funkadelics of “High Class Slim Came Floatin’ In” and through the zippy Neu!-like “Prepare Your Coffin,” atypical Tortoise groove-riding tricks are pulled off with age-defying agility.  The acid-house-meets-voodoo-bopping of “Northern Something” and “Penumbra” reclaim more than a few ideas filched by Four Tet and Animal Collective.  The savage hardcore-punk meltdown of “Yinxianghechengqi” could simultaneously be the group’s hardest and most hilarious guitar-powered track.  The unquestionably derivative but beautifully picturesque “The Fall of Seven Diamonds Plus One” is the best the Doug-McCombs-in-cowboy-soundtrack-mode set-piece since the most bucolic pastures of TNT.  Elsewhere, the afro-beat-meets-Can bi-polarity of “Gigantes,” the near-ecclesiastical synthscapes of “de Chelly” and the squelching beatronica of “Monument Six One Thousand” remind us that the fivesome can play the studio as an instrument without disappearing up a shared backside.  Beacons Of Ancestorship may not change anything radically in the musical world but it does playfully prove that Tortoise’s upcoming twentieth birthday celebrations need not also be an enforced retirement party. 

Prepare Your Coffin by Tortoise

Thanks to Rowan Feldberg, David Sheppard, Matt Dornan, Sarah Deacon and – of course – Doug McCombs for their help and patience with compiling this feature.