The album kicks off with the sprawling, multi-part suite of ‘High Class Slim Came Floatin’ In’, which touches on many different styles and influences throughout its eight minutes. The track is a flat out dance number at the start, before it switches to a smoother, 70’s-era Miles Davis funk groove, and closes out with a discordant electro-clash din. It remains elusive and continually innovative, and sets a template that the rest of the album loosely adheres to. ‘Prepare Your Coffin’ sounds a bit tame and conventional by comparison (most songs would), but it still manages to thrive mainly due to the resourceful blend of textured guitars and layered keyboards. ‘Northern Something’ is a propulsive, ever-morphing sonic curve ball that would seem out of place on any other album other than one by Tortoise. Most bands would relegate a seemingly innocuous two and a half minute song like this to a b-side or the cutting room floor, but Tortoise aren’t like most bands, and the inclusion of this rather peculiar track on their record is a testament to both their creativity and their audacity.
‘Gigantes’ is an agitated, angular excursion that starts out with a sparse acoustic guitar part that eventually gives way to the tumultuous beat layered underneath and the sinister drone of the keyboards. It is electronic music with a living, breathing human element, and that’s what makes the song so vital and anything but sterile. The punkish pulse of ‘Yinxianghechengqi’ introduces another facet to Tortoise’s engaging sound, as the intentionally messy production helps blend the discordant guitars with the driving dance hall beat. ‘The Fall Of Seven Diamonds Plus One’ sounds like a futuristic Bond theme, and represents the beginning of the down tempo shift featured on the second half of the record. ‘Minors’ could be the soundtrack to a robotic porn film, with the sultry, progressive bass line chugging along over stuttering drums, and the unhurried funk of ‘Monument Six One Thousand’ keeps the languid vibe going. While these songs are pleasant enough, they aren’t as challenging and experimental as the tracks that start out the record.
Songs like ‘De Chelly’, along with the other somewhat cursory tracks on the album, represent a new found restraint for Tortoise, where before they might have indulged themselves and lengthened these songs considerably, here they are succinct and compact, and become somewhat perplexing in their brevity as opposed to being tediously drawn out. And, while closer ‘Charteroak Foundation’ does nothing to enliven the torpid second half of the album, it still represents a strong and fitting conclusion to the record. The hypnotic bass line and recurrent guitars are layered on top of swelling keyboards and robotic voices that alight and ultimately breathe life into the track.
Tortoise have returned to a find a musical landscape that is all too similar and derivative to hold much interest to them, so instead of trying to fit in, they chose to stand out, crafting a record that sounds like nothing that’s come before it and everything that is to come all at once. ‘Beacons Of Ancestorship’ is ultimately a challenging listen, but a familiar one as well, with the futuristic din blending well with the distinguishable sounds of the past that Tortoise has helped to fashion. Let’s just hope that it doesn’t take them another five years to return and show everyone the right way to transform music in order to make the familiar sound new again.