There are so many ideas on ‘It’s All Around You’ that it’s difficult to begin to describe. A listen to the techy but delightful ’Stretch (You Are All Right)’ would maybe encapsulate what is brilliant about this record – somehow, in one song, Tortoise accommodate outstanding lead melodies from at least four different sources; bass, guitars, xylophone and synths tangle together in a riot of tone. Everything adds to the whole, which becomes undefinable, yet totally beguiling.
The opening to ’Unknown' shows Mogwai how it’s done, with its gorgeous, ponderous bassline and beautifully restrained drums. This is akin to the sound that I respect Slint for; guitar-led, dramatically poised, holding back, threatening to blow at any moment. Whereas Slint would inevitably step up the dynamic, however, Tortoise do not possess that instinct. Instead, synths swell in the background, layering the sound, allowing it to build, naturally, slowly and dolefully. It’s a track of brooding beauty.
The opening to ’Dot/Eyes’ is just incredible; the bass drum fills the room and then the snare snaps in, jolting the track into vicious, electric life. Strange sounds, filtered static and massive waves of noise build as the drums pound on - the sound builds exponentially until Tortoise suddenly snap the book shut with a moment of silence - and I realise that, at the close of track six, it’s the first pause on the record.
Back they come with the sublimely melodic ’On The Chin’, led by one of those Ennio Morricone-style, tremulous guitar lines that have become a Tortoise trademark. This is a more recognisable Tortoise to those who have already heard the LP’s ‘Millions Now Living Will Never Die’ and ‘TNT’. But ‘It’s All Around You' shows much more of Tortoise’s melodic side than either of those two records. The synth melody that appears from nowhere during ‘Crest’, for example, is little short of breathtaking.
The LP as a whole is a remarkable collection of ideas, which manages to be overwhelmingly creative, but intrinsically listenable. Tortoise’s experimentation is geared around finding new ways of making and producing music that will reach out to listeners and pull them in. They should be applauded for working deep in the heart of music, whilst still looking to create recordings that display all the benefits of their explorations and enough superficial allure to invite people into their world.