Tortoise: The Catastrophist (Thrill Jockey) Review | Under the Radar Magazine Under the Radar | Music Blog for the Indie Music Magazine
Sunday, May 19th, 2024  

Issue # 56 - Best of 2015 - Father John Misty and Wolf Alice

The Catastrophist

Thrill Jockey

Jan 19, 2016 Tortoise Bookmark and Share

Post-rock quintet Tortoise hasn’t released a new album in six years. It’s the longest break the band has taken between albums, but on first listen of The Catastrophist, one could be forgiven for thinking it had only been a year or two. While Tortoise has always been a band to defy easy categorization, on The Catastrophist they make it as difficult as ever, swerving among synthesized minimalism (“Gesceap”), Battles-esque experimental rock (“Shake Hands With Danger”), and gentle indie soul (“Yonder Blue,” featuring Yo La Tengo’s Georgia Hubley). There’s even a disorientingly straightforward cover of David Essex’s 1973 hit “Rock On,” complete with vocals, an unusual move for a Tortoise album. Combined with its cover art (already in the running for worst cover of 2016), The Catastrophist makes for a befuddling, though quite enjoyable, listen.

The title track’s false start, made up of dorky video-game synths, quickly dissipates, leaving a slinky jam that could’ve fit in easily on 1998’s TNT. “The Clearing Fills” is also classic Tortoise, with three minutes of jazz chords and hypnotic percussion fading into a final, cloudy minute of ambient noise. “Hot Coffee” rides a funky bass line through stabs of guitar and crashing percussion, introducing some arpeggio work in its second half that Tortoise fans should recognize as a signature of the band.

A handful of tracks here started as a suite of music composed in tribute to the improvisational history of Chicago’s music scene, and commissioned by the city. This tidbit provides context to the music, which on first listen may seem to wander. Live in these tracks for a bit, though, and they come alive as vibrant additions to Tortoise’s impressive discography. Aside from the head-scratching detours (“Rock On,” “Gesceap,” “Yonder Blue,” which might as well be a Yo La Tengo song), it’s heartening to hear Tortoise in fine experimental form. (

Author rating: 6.5/10

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Average reader rating: 6/10


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