Review: Tortoise’s ‘The Catastrophist’

Jacob Cutler ’19 / Emertainment Monthly Assistant Editor


Tortoise, the Chicago based post-rock, instrumental band have always been known to push the boundaries of their own sound and music in general. Tortoise is well known for pioneering post-rock by incorporating elements of jazz-fusion, electronica, and indie rock. On every album, Tortoise extends post-rock by adding a new element to it. On The Catastrophist, their first album since 2009, Tortoise doesn’t seem to do that. What they do instead is make an album that incorporates elements from previous releases.

The opening and title track starts off with a Herbie Hancock esque synth riff but then smoothly transitions into a groove oriented electro-jazz track. It harkens back to their sound on fan favorite TNT and Standards. The next track is also reminiscent of this sound with a heavy bass line underneath two dueling synths. On tracks like “Shake Hands With Danger” Tortoise utilizes their heavier and math rock sound, which was an added element on their last album Beacons Of Ancestorship.

The one new frontier Tortoise has ventured into is guest vocals and classic rock covers. This album features a cover of David Essex’s “Rock On” featuring U.S. Maple’s Todd Rittman on vocals and an original song entitled “Yonder Blue” sung by Yo La Tengo’s Georgia Hubley.

“Rock On” seems to be something completely out of left field for Tortoise, but maybe that’s why it works so well. Todd Rittman’s vocals on this track are much more dissonant than the original. Overall the instrumental on this song is much groovier and an extreme exaggeration of the original electric drums and synths used on the original track.  “Yonder Blue” almost feels like Tortoise’s attempt to write a 60’s ballad. “Yonder Blue” heavily features an organ and is at a slow tempo with vocals almost in the style of 60’s female crooners like Karen Carpenter.  

Despite Tortoise’s decrease in innovation from their prior albums, The Catastrophist highlights the band’s virtuosity and technical skill just as much as any other Tortoise album. The album is full of dynamic tracks and any fan of Tortoise’s previous work would love it. The Catastrophist is definitely a necessary addition to Tortoise’s discography.


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