Almanac has a lot going on over the course of its 45 minutes. Dragon Turtle”s masterminds Brian Lightbody and Tom Asselin employ a rotating cast of players to produce a wide variety of sounds and atmospheres. Opener “Causality” begins with a folksy acoustic guitar and gradually adds layers of sound on top: congas, distorted electric guitar, a trumpet, and an organ. Then it gradually removes those layers until all you can focus on is a high-pitched organ drone that quickly shifts from intriguing to aggravating.
Basically, that’s the album in a nutshell. Lightbody and Asselin do a great job of producing the ambient post-rock sounds Tortoise specializes in, with a bit of Sigur Ros’ unintelligible vocal stylings tossed in for good measure. The mixture of sounds is interesting, but little songcraft is behind it. Regardless of whether it’s one of Almanac‘s two nine-minute-plus centerpieces or the three-minute interludes that surround them (with the exception of the surprisingly focused “Island of Broken Glass”), you rarely get the feeling you”re listening to something that was really planned out beyond a certain sonic texture or a simple melody. These pieces mostly drift along without any obvious focus or direction, making for a pretty dull listening experience.