A decade into their career as alt-jazz icons, Tortoise are still, well, plodding along with their patented combination of guitar licks, DJ loops, and drumbeats. Their methodology owes more to the shoegazer scene than it does, say, to jazz-rock fusion like Miles Davis and John McLaughlin's Jack Johnson. As the band's moniker implies, Tortoise's songs are more likely based on a musical evolution that's nearly imperceptible. Oftentimes, that makes for lazy, stoner soundtrack music -- although occasionally, Tortoise have managed to use their instrumental nuances to tap into a wellspring of human emotion. Take, for example, "Djed," the 20-minutes-plus opus that opened their second album, Millions Now Living Will Never Die.
For better or for worse, however, Tortoise doesn't break any new ground on this, their fifth album. On these 10 tracks, John McEntire & Co. are borderline noodlers, oftentimes revisiting -- without managing to successfully expound upon -- a series of second-rate musical themes. There are a few glorious moments: the chiming tones of "Crest" and the soaring, Brazilian-influenced "The Lithium Stiffs," which features a breathy vocal line from Kelly Hogan, Ö la Astrud Gilberto. But despite the realization that the longest cut on It's All Around You clocks in at just under five-and-a-half minutes, the album still seems a little tedious. -- Andria Lisle
Tortoise performs at the Young Avenue Deli Monday, May 3rd, with Beans and the Ex-Models.
Aw C'mon and No You C'mon -- Lambchop's sixth and seventh albums, released simultaneously -- constitute a sprawling, eclectic set that highlights the band's lush sound and Kurt Wagner's wryly observant lyrics and eccentric vocal style.
As their titles suggest, these two C'mon's form a dialogue: They not only complement but talk to one another, casually arguing a theme. Each record represents a conflict common to indie bands but especially meaningful with the older members of Lambchop -- the not-always-easy comforts of home versus the not-always-unpleasant tedium of touring.
Aw C'mon is the home side, examining the intricacies of marriage and family responsibilities and showcasing Wagner's lyrical range. Perhaps indie-rock's best dramatist of domestic mundanity, Wagner writes opaque songs that never simply state their meanings outright but reveal them gradually, if at all. It's as if the songs are so deeply rooted in Wagner's personal life and based so closely on people and predicaments that he has to write them in code -- easily cracked by the attentive listener but not always necessary to the enjoyment of the song.
At its heart, Aw C'mon is an album about the ways men and women talk to each other, about the tactics they use to defend themselves or inflict wounds in a relationship. "Let's begin again," Wagner sings on "Every Time I Bring It Up It Seems To Bring You Down," "And let's not try to answer/With subtle irony/Instead of common sense."
But as he sings on "I Haven't Heard a Word I've Said," "A dialogue is half-created/Out of our own words." The other half is silence, both the necessary kind and the kind that lets problems rub away at a relationship until a blister rises.
Lambchop fills that silence with music, which forms the basis for No You C'mon. The band gets a little rowdier on these songs, varying up the tempos, arrangements, accompaniments, and approaches from song to song. On the feedback-saturated "Nothing Adventurous Please" and the doo-wop "Shang a Dang Dang," Lambchop sounds newly invigorated by the possibilities of all these people making music.
While Aw C'mon is better written, No You C'mon is more musically vigorous. The former may be more rewarding, but the latter is more fun. Sure, you could pare down the set into one solid "A" album, but that would miss the point: With their rich sound and large roster, Nashville's Lambchop has mastered a unique brand of restrained excess. All 22 songs on these two albums may not be essential, but they faithfully note and record life's little inessentials. --Stephen Deusner
Grade (both records): A-