Published Jan 20, 2016Arriving almost seven years after 2009's Beacons of Ancestorship, Tortoise's latest picks up basically where the Chicago contemporary alt outfit left off. Mining five loose themes the band assembled for a 2010 City of Chicago commission that had the five-piece design a suite of music in tribute to its association with area jazz and improvisational communities, The Catastrophist is perhaps Tortoise's most germinated release to date, but in practice, it's far from an over-fussed affair.
It's another entry from their world of most-things-go instrumental feasts, but in the spirit of the geology theory they align the record with in the title, The Catastrophist finds the five-piece indulging sudden instrumental adjustments and letting those determine the scope and direction of their pieces. As evidenced on the cascading channel-changing of the opening title track and the pounding hypnotism of "Shake Hands With Danger," this mostly results in delightfully weird and varied compositions that strike the listener as more volatile and fragmented pastiches next to the comparably predictable out-lounge works assembled on Beacons, all the while maintaining the sense of continuity on that last release.
Elsewhere, the band explore some residual ideas from 2004's It's All Around You on "Hot Coffee," injecting some space-minded funkadelics into the fray; with vocal help from U.S. Maple's Todd Rittman, the group even set their sights on the bluesy glam rock of David Essex's "Rock On," tapping into its deep bass grooves and allowing wide-wobbling synths to turn the '70s earworm into a weirdo anthem (there's some incredible audio panning happening here, so headphones are highly recommended).
For a predominantly instrumental band, Tortoise's "song" songs are always usually a rare pleasure, and The Catastrophist actually delivers two; "Yonder Blue," the better of the two, is a dreamy soul ballad that makes excellent use of Yo La Tengo's Georgia Hubley. This is business as (un)usual for one of indie rock's greatest experimental institutions, to be sure. (Thrill Jockey)