Album Cover
It's All Around You
Thrill Jockey
April 06, 2004


Tortoise have a maddening tendency to release albums that start out excellent and very quickly degrade into mediocrity or worse. The effect of this is that I continue to convince myself that I really like Tortoise; I'm hearing "TNT" and "Swung from the Gutters" and "Djed" and "Magnet Pulls Through" and "Seneca" and I'm all, yeah, I could dig this, I could dig this a lot. And then it's all, the rest, and I'm all, oh right. But it's always particularly distressing because the first songs are always so good. There's no way the rest of the album won't be at least decent. The rest of the album, I find, tends not to be decent.

So. Don't look at the score yet: Am I starting this way because they've broken the rut or because it is more true than ever? A hint is that, yes, "It's All Around You" begins the album off on such a high note. It is a return to the least disappointing Tortoise, in their self-titled debut era, in which they kept the head-swimmy dawdling to a minimum, kept techno and post-rock seperate and knew how to use their electronic and organic post-powers for decent instead of evil. Another hint is that the rest of the album is just downright uninteresting, and, sadly, more so than ever. I'd had hope, though, because It's All Around You moves away from their recent techno leanings; are they innovating? Redefining their sound? Whoa! They are! Oh, right.

But it's not bad, is the thing. If they were ever really, really bad, I would learn to stop, accept that I'm not a fan, and move on. But apart from their brief interludes of genius, it's all just bland. It's not actively unpleasant, there's just no reason to ever listen to most of it again. So they must be planning something; sometime soon they must be 100% brilliant and I'll be able to tell myself I was right all along! It's just not this album, either.

So, yes, "It's All Around You" is an excellent song. Tortoise were the first post-rock combo to use vibraphones as their gimmick instrument, and while the Mercury Program may do them better, Tortoise still do them well here. The guitar work sounds, at times, a bit like a sleepy Carlos Santana, and at other times a jazzy sort of post-rock guitar doodle, and in both cases it is pulled off nicely. The repeated phrases stick with you, unlike the rest of the album, which just sort of sneaks past you and moves right along, stopping briefly to smother you with belabored subtlety.

But I've offended some of you, no doubt. Lots of people do like Tortoise, and you guys'll still like this, right? Sadly, I doubt it. It's All Around You is, apart from the brief high point, almost completely forgettable; Tortoise (the album) meets Smooth Jazz 100.3 FM, sprinkled with ambient techno, but not the good kind. For a buck, you can enjoy some smooth, refreshing Pepsi-Cola and score a legal download of the title track, and this is a win-win-win sort of a situation, in that you are refreshed, you are rocking, and you don't have to hear the rest of the album.

Noah Jackson

Track List

  1. It's All Around You
  2. The Lithium Stiffs
  3. Crest
  4. Stretch (You Are All Right)
  5. Unknown
  6. Doteyes
  7. On the Chin
  8. By Dawn
  9. Five Too Many
  10. Salt the Skies