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+ Jarvis Cocker - The Jarvis Cocker Record
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+ Bob Dylan - Modern Times
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+ Chris Thile - How To Grow A Woman From The Ground
+ Brad Mehldau - Live in Japan
+ M Ward - Post-War
+ Various Artists - Touch 25
+ The Mountain Goats - Get Lonely
+ The White Birch - Come Up For Air
+ Camera Obscura - Let's Get Out of This Country
+ Coachwhips - Double Death
+ Various Artists - Tibetan And Bhutanese Instrumental And Folk Music, Volume 2
+ Giuseppe Ielasi - Giuseppe Ielasi
+ Cex - Actual Fucking
+ Sufjan Stevens - The Avalanche
+ Leafcutter John - The Forest And The Sea
+ Carla Bozulich - Evangelista
+ Barbara Morgenstern - The Grass Is Always Greener
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+ Peaches - Impeach My Bush
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+ TV On The Radio - Return To Cookie Mountain
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+ Jenny Wilson - Love And Youth
+ Asobi Seksu - Citrus
+ Marsen Jules - Les Fleurs
+ The Moore Brothers - Murdered By The Moore Brothers
+ Regina Spektor - Begin To Hope
+ The 1900s - Plume Delivery EP
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+ Function - The Secret Miracle Fountain
+ Sonic Youth - Rather Ripped
+ Loscil - Plume
+ Boris - Pink
+ Deadboy And The Elephantmen - We Are Night Sky
+ Glissandro 70 - Glissandro 70
+ Calexico - Garden Ruin (Review #2)
+ Calexico - Garden Ruin (Review #1)
+ The Flaming Lips - At War With The Mystics
+ The Glass Family - Sleep Inside This Wheel
+ Various Artists - Songs For Sixty Five Roses
+ The Fiery Furnaces - Bitter Tea
+ Motorpsycho - Black Hole/Blank Canvas
+ The Red Krayola - Introduction
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+ American Princes - Less And Less
+ Sondre Lerche And The Faces Down Quartet - Duper Sessions
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It's All Around You
Thrill Jockey

While Tortoise have never really become a household name, the five discs they've recorded over the past 10 or so years have been a powerful presence in indie-rock circles. They're the band that broke down the boundaries between jazz, rock and prog. Their first disc in 1994 had critics and fans tripping over themselves trying to describe it.

Ten years on, Tortoise have recorded their first disc without a lineup change. The five original musicians are here: Dan Bitney, John Herndon, Douglas McCombs, John McEntire and Jeff Parker. This time, having free rein at John McEntire's Soma studio allowed them to spend a year writing, mixing and tinkering in one setting. As can happen when something is tinkered with one time too many, the results are a little soft in spots. The music has lost some of the hard edge and grit that hooked my rock sensibilities and kept Tortoise's disc TNT close to my CD player for the past five years. The vibraphone often overtakes the bass, so the overall CD leans more toward jazz and tends to sound like a film soundtrack. I don't necessarily have anything against an airy and filmic music. I'd just come to expect more punch from Tortoise.

There are some punchy moments on It's All Around You. The band's trademark looped guitars take off and soar on the sixth track, "Dots/Eyes." The song starts with a halting, staccato guitar loop and from there becomes a swirl of reverberation and rhythm. It sounds like a dance party at an industrial-waste site, with the growling bass line in the middle either a groaning monster or menacing power tool.

Lest the listener be filled with dread, the band follows with an airy track called "On the Chin." It's classic Tortoise, wandering through different movements and moods at a slow pace. The slow pace doesn't make it boring; the song is full of intrigue and melancholy. "Five Too Many" is another perfect Tortoise song, blending bits of glitch, jazz and rock in a five-minute jam. I'm sure this song was tinkered with endlessly in the studio, but it sounds spontaneous and fresh.

The biggest departure for the band is "The Lithium Stiffs." In it Kelly Hogan sings a breathy series of "aaah"s, along with some male "aaah"s harmonizing behind her. It's unusual for Tortoise to have vocals. Itís also unusual for the band to sound so feathery light. There's a close relation between this song and one Doug McCombs did with Brokeback, where Mary Hansen sang. This could almost be the band's farewell to Mary, who died last year in a bicycle accident.

Listening to It's All Around You often feels like listening to a Café del Mar disc: Those compilations of lite dance music offer to bring the sunset to your dinner table or your bedroom, as opposed to bringing actual sunlight or darkness. Tortoise have, in the past, asked more from their listeners. This time they let us off a little too easy.

by Lori Miller Barrett

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