Tortoise – The Catastrophist
Released January 22nd, 2016 on Thrill Jockey Records
Once upon a time Tortoise were one of the most important bands in popular music. Let’s put scare quotes around “popular”, because let’s face it: post-rock has never, aside from brief Godspeed-induced moments, been popular. Still, arguments about popularity aside, Tortoise gave us two albums – Millions Now Living Will Never Die and TNT – that helped to shape and define the concept of post-rock as it now exists. That was nearly two decades ago, though; Tortoise circa 2016 is on the tail end of three increasingly mediocre albums, and their major conceits – creaky drum machines, jazz splashes, Krautrock rhythms and trance-inducing funk grooves – are all things that their descendants have spun into cliche. Recognizing this, perhaps, the band has chosen to widen their sound a little, to the point of adding vocals (very few vocals, of course, but something is more than nothing). Unfortunately, the overall effect is one that is too little, too late; the world has passed Tortoise by, and releasing an incrementally different album in January is not going to change that. It’s a decent enough album – stumbling wide-eyed into classic rock tropes to spruce up the surroundings as it does – but it’s not one that will be remembered by the time December rolls around.