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Album review: Tortoise, ‘The Catastrophist’

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Two decades and seven albums into its collective career, Chicago's Tortoise is a genre unto itself: cited as a progenitor of post-rock, and clearly indebted to its home town's history of improvisers and fusionists, Tortoise is an American underground institution. The Catastrophist, the band's first LP since 2009, finds the outfit wading through jazz and dub, flirting with rock and funk vernaculars, inverting the concepts of organic and electronic music. Atmosphere and texture are the moving forces behind Tortoise's motorik thorb, and nowhere does it seem more evident than their reimagining of David Essex's 1973 hit "Rock On." (Gen Xers may recall Michael Damian's version of "Rock On" from the Haim/Feldman film classic "Dream a Little Dream.") A sudden turn to classic rock feels like one of the weirdest moves of Tortoise's career — but it also feels so right. It's so obvious, such a great fit for both the band and the song, that the well-worn classic feels as obtuse and unpredictable as the finest moments in Tortoise's catalog.




Tortoise performs at the Sinclair March 15.

Sean L. Maloney can be reached at