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Tortoise bassist Doug McCombs at a festival in 2004 (Photo: Getty Images)

In Hear This, The A.V. Club writers sing the praises of songs they know well. This week: Songs from artists who have new music coming in 2016.

Tortoise, “Dot/Eyes” (2004)

Chicago instrumental quintet Tortoise has always been about the slow burn. Its most legendary song is the nearly 21-minute “Djed,” from the 1996 sophomore release Millions Now Living Will Never Die. “Djed” represents Tortoise’s platonic ideal, best demonstrating the band’s deliberate compositional pacing, and evenly blending its disparate influences, which include Krautrock, electronica, and funky jazz fusion reminiscent of On The Corner-era Miles Davis. Nothing else in Tortoise’s catalog is as long or meandering as “Djed,” but the band’s songs usually take circuitous paths and are structured to withhold the big payoffs.


By 2004’s It’s All Around You, Tortoise’s music hadn’t exactly become predictable, but its alien rhythms had become more familiar. “Dot/Eyes” is all the more surprising then, because it spends its entire length sizzling, promising an explosion that never comes. The track is all buildup, mostly the frenetic percussion of the band’s drummer and in-house producer John McEntire. The other four multi-instrumentalists contribute amelodic tones and stabs of bass, but what feels like a slow crescendo then cuts out abruptly. “Dot/Eyes” initially feels anti-climactic, and the punny title almost becomes a taunt considering that if the song was a sentence, it would be missing half its words, to say nothing of its tittles. Only after a few times through does “Eyes” begin to reveal its charms. The buildup is the climax, and the tension is the release.

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