Album Review: Tortoise – The Catastrophist

Tortoise - The Catastrophist

It’s been a while since we heard anything new from Chicago based experimental rockers Tortoise. Their last album ‘Beacons Of Ancestorship’ was all the way back in 2009, and until their recent single ‘Gesceap’, we haven’t heard a peak from them. Seven years later, and the boys are back with album number seven ‘The Catastrophist’. Their style of instrumental electronic rock has carved out a sound of their own, that has inspired many others throughout the years. They are like a less mathy version of their apprentices Battles. What Tortoise have always done really well is to create instrumental music that manages to sound interesting. Music without vocals and lyrics can be challenging, both as an artist and as a listener to get into the music. So what is the best way to get around that? By cramming it full of interesting sounds, of course. And Tortoise have done exactly that.

‘The Catastrophist’ is due out in January on Thrill Jockey, and it mixes things up a little from previous projects. Whilst it still features those big instrumental numbers that you’d expect, for the first time they have featured a couple of vocalists. The first of which is ‘Rock On’. It’s a cover of the  David Essex song. They’re not too artists you would naturally put together, but it really works. Todd Rittman’s vocals are fuzzy to match the guitars. It’s all mixed together with a minimal and edgy electronic backing track. If you’re going to cover an artist so different in style then the best way to approach it is by completely mixing it up. And this track couldn’t stray further from the original.

Single ‘Gesceap’ is as hypnotic as it is epic, weighing in just over the seven minute mark, constantly moving and evolving into the beast of the track that it is. It would not sound out of place on an indie film score. It somehow manages to tell a story throughout the track. Not quite sure how that’s possible without words, but that’s what it seems to do.

But regardless of this they have stayed true to what they are all about as a band. Those huge instrumental rock tracks are still there. From the dramatic ‘Shake Hands With Danger’ to to the ambient ”The Clearing Fills’. If you were a fan of the band before, then that’s not going to change. Is it going to attract new fans? Who knows. As a band they are not commercial chart fodder, but this is a quirky and cool collection of songs. If Tortoise are not a band you are familiar with, then I recommend checking this album. There aren’t any big catchy numbers that will have you singing along on first play. But like they’re name they are come at you slowly (see what I did there?). And we all know what happened in the race between the Tortoise and the Hare.

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