One of the most influential bands of the '90s, Tortoise helped define the notion of post-rock by steering the underground toward rumbling reggae basslines, the moody repetition of classical minimalism, and elaborate chords and time changes culled from jazz. But while such diversions made a sport of musical tourism, the members of Tortoise rarely sounded enamored of the stops they haunted. Hallmark albums like Millions Now Living Will Never Die and TNT trafficked in post-rock's exotic fancies, but for a band held up as visionary, Tortoise seemed more distantly intrigued than immediately inspired by its sense of adventure.
That tide started shifting with 2001's electrically charged Standards, and it comes to a crest on It's All Around You. Sounding pensive but not pent-up, the title track opens with twinkling electric-piano patches and guitar riffs snaking around a gorgeous melody. "The Lithium Stiffs" wanders through an outgrowth of ethereal vocal hums, wondrously overripe synthesizers, and drum puddles that ripple with every step. The parts are typical Tortoise, but the band sounds newly enthralled by music rather than its making. The thrown-open gates sound less guarded than usual on "Dot/Eyes," which runs martial rhythms under a mess of ominous electronic textures, and "Five Too Many," which lays xylophone loops over a simmering bossa nova groove.
All in all, it sounds like Tortoise spent less time studying the post-rock playbook than following up on its upshots: the folksy electronic pastiche of Four Tet, the sunspot ambience of Boards Of Canada, and so on. The album's back half falls prey to some of the group's ponderous tendencies, taking long, slow detours through watered-down mood rock. But missteps are exceptions on It's All Around You, which casts the members of Tortoise as musical tourists governed by wandering eyes rather than anxiously readied cameras.