In the mind of some (including myself), It's All Around You is one of the most anticipated releases of the year. I'd heard that the group had been holed up at various times working on new material, but was never sure when to expect anything solid until the album title and release date were announced, making me salivate in anticipation. I'll make no secret of the fact that Millions Now Living Will Never Die was one of those albums that caused a "shift" in my musical listening, rendering everything I listened to after that slightly different. Through the years, I've always gone back to their releases and some of them (namely Standards have even grown in favor since I first got them.
And so we have here 10 tracks and almost 45 minutes of new music and once again the group will probably at least partially confound those who think that they know what the group is going to do. It's All Around You has both serious ambience and serious grooves, it rocks occasionally, and it doesn't dip into jazz nearly as much as some of their past releases. More than anything else, though (and the title hints at this), the release really seriously envelops the listener. It's probably the most dense recording that Tortoise has ever done, and it's one of those releases that unveils itself rather slowly, giving you something new each time you listen to it.
Upon first listen, I have to admit that I wasn't quite sure what to think of it. I think that I was expecting more of the rock (Standards) or more of the weirded-out ambient jazz (TNT), but what I got was something entirely different. Opening with the album-titled "It's All Around You," it's pretty clear that the group hunkered down and spent a lot of time with the release. Keyboard melodies flutter and slide through in the background while a guitar takes the lead and polyrhythmic drums and a seriously heavy low-end moves the whole thing around on sub-bass tectonic plates.
"The Lithium Stiffs" arrives second, and it's noteworthy mainly in that it's the first Tortoise track to contain vocals since they used them on one track in their self-titled debut. It's all 'oohs' and 'aahs' and the track is actually one of the least-effective on the release, percolating chimes shimmer through huge clouds of nebulous synths but don't really go much of anywhere. Fortunately, the following track "Crest" gets severely epic in only about 4 minutes, again piling on the sound into a massive wash that gives way to a quieter and more graceful mid-section.
From there, the album hits a nice stride with "Stretch (You Are All Right)" kicking things up a notch on a funky bassline and rhythm section while "Dot/Eyes" drops what could be the album standout. Thunderous drums march and roll as the track builds with a somewhat sinister edge until exploding. Even though the vibraphone is back in full force, the group still manages to make it sound fresh, especially on the two-sided closer of "Salt The Skies" that goes from laid-back to nicely-rocking on a dime. As mentioned above, it might take a bit to sink in, but if you're a fan of Tortoise you'll most likely enjoy this release. One of my favorite releases of the year so far.