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Published: 2004/06/30
by Chris Gardner

It’s All Around You – Tortoise

Thrill Jockey Records

This would be a perfectly good record if Tortoise hadn't set the bar so high
for themselves. As it is, it's a decent record that too often dives into
the background. Here, nothing is fresh. The exquisitely crafted textures
and sounds are still here – the crinkly beats, the thrumming bass, and vibes
and guitar – but it's old hat. You can feel the hours poring over each
wrinkle, but the result is flat, over-processed, and a frightening bit too
much like the mall-music of the future. There is no wonder, no surprise, no
edge, no vibrancy. It's as though the band is "doing Tortoise" rather than
being themselves. They know what a Tortoise record sounds like, and here
they reproduce one.

The best of the band's work won't let you wander. It leaves you wide-eyed,
wondering where it will go next, biting on each change, and there are
moments here that accomplish the same. The opener/title track keeps a firm
grip. Guitars snake around each other, weaving engaging melodies that
stick, and "Lithium Stiffs" on its heels doesn't fall off. Built on a
twittering bell, a near horse clop, and breathy, layered female voices, it
drifts in the entrancing ether until a simple piano line enters the mix and
snaps the you into the realization that you spent the first half of the song
completely spaced and completely focused simultaneously.

At its best, It’s All Around You does what Tortoise does better than
any band working, balances you between attuned consciousness and hypnosis,
but it happens too rarely here. There is distance when there should be
immediacy, and more often than not, the album becomes what so many accuse
all post-rock of being, mere background music. It’s All Around You
is the sound of a band stagnating, the sound of a band going through the
motions (doing Tortoise) rather than creating from inspiration. There is a
fine line between, "Hey let's make a record!" and, "Hey let's make a
Tortoise record," and the band crossed it.

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