Farty synth sounds have their charms, but they aren't the answer to everything. Unfortunately, they seem to be to be something of a default mode for Tortoise on its new album, its first in five years. They strut across the halting beat of opener "High Class Slim Came Floating In," grind across the Bo Diddley/diddley bow bop of "Northern Something," mark off the stately graduation-march melody of "De Chelly," and throb the bassline of "Monument Six One Thousand." There's probably one lurking in the distorted scrum of "Yinxianghechengqi." And that's not the only rut the post-rock pioneer—which once inspired thousands of indie bedsitters with its unusual textures and timbres and wide-open sense of song construction—seems to settle into here.
The biggest and most problematic consistency plaguing Beacons of Ancestorship is the just-five-dudes-jamming-in-a-room feel that pervades the compositions. All sense of dubby drop-out and cut-and-paste surprise long gone, the band often seizes on musical tropes and just rides them out. Even those tracks highlighted by the aforementioned squelchy synths tend to find one idea and stick to it. Oddly enough, the most successful track is the one that most prominently doesn't change. Closer "Chateroak Foundation" centers around a measured guitar arpeggio from Jeff Parker that's put through effects and surrounded by a rising, emotionally gyrating accompaniment from the rest of the band but never really alters. It's the closest Beacons gets to inspiring.