The longer a band stays around, the harder it is to really hear the music it makes. On its new album, Chicago-based Tortoise struggles to overcome backlash against the post-rock it has exemplified over the past decade. It's All Around You may not do the trick, but the record holds up not only to repeat listenings but auto-repeat listenings. Instead of a few catchy hooks, you get an entire kitchen wall tastefully appointed with places to hang your pots.
The breathy female vocals of "The Lithium Stiffs" -- as always, without any lyrics -- slip elegantly into the orchestral refrains of "Crest," which impressively conjure the melancholy swell of Joy Division's "Atmosphere." In "On the Chin," Tortoise veers dangerously close to the kitsch of dentist-office jazz before beating an icy retreat into formalism. And in the final track, "Salt the Skies," the band tips its hat to the hard fuzz of acid rock. There's plenty for the loyal Tortoise fan to love and a lot for newcomers to like. But the proficiency of John McEntire and his collaborators still sounds like the musical equivalent of a glass-walled Modernist home: It's easier to admire than to live in.
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