[one_half]Tortoise only release an album about once every three years, and their style is one of the most distinctive in rock music, so a record that fails to push them forward can hardly be termed a failure. And yet, It’s All Around You is a disappointment since it’s clear the quintet is in a holding pattern, making music derivative of old glory TNT and even its shabbier successor, Standards. Everything is in its place here, every shuddering bassline or wheezing synthesizer or ringing vibraphone; every minimalist repetition of a theme, accompanied by subtly changing counterpoint; every pause before the band reworks the theme from a slightly different angle. Everything in its place, all part of a process that goes back in a direct line to Tortoise’s self-titled debut of 1994. Certainly, they have matured in a decade of work; the members of the band have grown as musicians, as producers, and as engineers. They’ve even grown as compilers and sequencers of their material — the pacing and transitions are masterful during the first four songs, which nearly comprise a suite of unified compositions to rank near their masterpiece “Djed.” Second song “The Lithium Stiffs” floats over a bed of wordless harmony vocals while a clipped percussion line segues into an exploratory dub clatter, devolving into chaos just before moving to the aptly titled “Crest,” an evocation of cinematic stateliness that goes well beyond anything the usually informal Tortoise has ever recorded. But It’s All Around You soon becomes just another Tortoise record, so close to previous records in composition and execution that it’s virtually deja vu for any listeners who know the band well. Members of the band, as well as some fans, would argue that the Tortoise aesthetic isn’t to continually push their music forward (as would their compatriots in post-rock) but to continue seeking a clearer expression of their methods (as would an experimental or jazz outfit). In the end, though, it’s a philosophical argument, not a musical one. Hearing Tortoise play music derivative of Tortoise is an enjoyable experience, but to be faced with a record so familiar from a band once so fresh is clearly a disappointment.
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