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The Catas­trophist

For fans of the band, ev­ery new Tor­toise record feels like an ex­cit­ing de­par­ture. But there are things, both ob­vi­ous and sub­tle, about The Catas­trophist that will gen­uinely star­tle lis­ten­ers who ap­pre­ci­ate the sto­ried quin­tet’s dar­ing. Over the past 20 years, the Chicago group have in­vented a much-em­u­lated rhyth­mic sen­si­bil­ity and ex­plored the far reaches of syn­the­sized tones and dis­torted noise, fu­elled by an abid­ing in­ter­est in jazz, dub, Krautrock, hiphop, elec­tron­ica and in­stru­men­tal rock. What­ever that aes­thetic con­fla­tion re­ally is when Tor­toise play to­gether is present here, but there’s also a greater sense of ease. Cer­tain pieces, like the ti­tle track or the short blast of “Go­pher Is­land,” pos­sess epic sound­track el­e­ments, as though they’re meant to un­der­score some­thing mon­u­men­tal. “Shake Hands With Dan­ger” also fea­tures hall­marks of the band: a force­ful, sturdy, dis­tinc­tive drum pat­tern, a taste­fully fo­cused yet wan­der­ing bass line and a rich ar­ray of pro­cessed in­stru­men­ta­tion. The most su­per­fi­cially jar­ring thing about The Catas­trophist — the in­clu­sion of vo­cals by U.S. Maple’s Todd Rittman and Yo La Tengo’s Ge­or­gia Hub­ley — isn’t all that jar­ring. Treated in re­verb or, in the case of Hub­ley, mixed some­what low, the voices sound like an­other in­stru­men­tal layer but, psy­cho­log­i­cally, hook us in. The fact that Rittman ap­pears on a ren­di­tion of David Es­sex’s early ’70s hit “Rock On” is quite weird. The song’s youth­ful call to arms also has a creepy lech­ery about it, and Tor­toise mag­nify its dark­ness with a woozy ar­range­ment. Hub­ley is a bit more dis­tant on “Yon­der Blue,” but that makes the song rather ar­rest­ing, as she con­veys a range of emo­tions in her dy­namic, breathy de­liv­ery, while the song it­self sounds like it’s be­ing trans­mit­ted via an AM ra­dio alarm clock. The Catas­trophist is a con­sid­er­ably mea­sured dis­patch that rev­els in space and time; there’s a lot of breath­ing room within th­ese ar­range­ments, and the air is sweet. (Thrill Jockey, VISH KHANNA

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