Album Review: Tortoise – Beacons of Ancestorship

Beacons of Ancestorship brings Tortoise’s sound firmly into the future. Once known for their majestic, open-ended post-rock instrumentals, the band have turned engineer John McEntire’s fascination with breakbeats and off-kilter rhythms into an altogether new venture.

Beacons of AncestorshipThe album gives listeners a clear indication of where Tortoise’s sound is probably headed. Change is manifested in dense, bass heavy tracks like “High Class Slim Came Floatin’ In” and “Northern Something,” the latter of which manages to be tongue-in-cheek even without the benefit of lyrics.

“Gigantes” almost sounds like something from a Squarepusher or Prefuse 73 album, with squirrely synth sounds, hammered dulcimer and earthy percussion squeezed through a filter of dance music and turntable-like sampling. “Penumbra” is a brief, wholly synthesized tune that sounds unlike anything that has ever been on a Tortoise album.

Fans of Tortoise’s classic sound won’t be disappointed, though, as tunes like “Prepare Your Coffin” and “Minors” are full of the angular melodies and driving drums that have made the band underground legends. “The Fall of Seven Diamonds” touches on a particularly nostalgic, cinematic vibe that the band is partially responsible for pioneering.

Beacons of Ancestorship displays the highly evolved talents of its creators, who are suddenly staring down their 20th anniversary. Guitarist Jeff Parker can still reach for the sky or glide along with the rest of the band with equal skill. The rhythm section has become one multi-headed monster, constantly blurring the lines between post-rock, breakbeat, hardcore electronic music, dub, and hip-hop.

Tortoise is still innovating. This album is not going to have the impact of TNT or Standards, but it is a concise, thoroughly enjoyable instrumental experience.

Rating: 8.4 out of 10

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