0201: “Djed” by Tortoise

[Let’s go away for awhile. Almost exactly twenty one minutes in fact…]

When I was growing up, the Chicago Tribune had a section called Tempo. It was kind of a hodge-podge of (mostly local) entertainment info and profiles if my memory serves me right. I think the crossword puzzle and Dave Barry’s articles were in there too. Anyway, before the Internet the Tempo section made up a part of the overall pie chart of how I discovered new music—the radio, my friends, overheard conversations of people I didn’t know who were talking about a new band, the guy who worked at my neighborhood record store who oddly looked a little like Roger Clemens, and MTV were the other pieces of the pie chart. In 1996 there was a write-up about a few Chicago bands that were labeled by the Tempo writer as being post-rock. Tortoise was one of the bands and there was a glowing review of their sophomore album Millions Now Living Will Never Die included as well. So I went to my local record store and Roger Clemens Look-a-like ordered it for me.

“Djed” is the opening track on the album and while the term “post-rock” wasn’t something I thought of when I first listened to it, but at a hair under twenty one minutes long and being an instrumental song comprised of multiple sections (mirroring the Djed in Egyptian mythology) with nary an overreaching electric or acoustic guitar to be found, I was definitely mesmerized by it and found it to be unique. Though the song is anchored by a bass guitar, it’s all of the melodic flourishes that make it such a virtuoso recording: the xylophones, the keyboards, the little electronic and production textures that sound like a whistling fly rod or a wind tunnel and missile sounds or dreamlike scratching or like the song is melting that make it so captivating. It’s a longform song that patiently conveys an abstract story that gets its name from the spine of Osiris, on an album named after a phrase used by the Jehovah’s Witnesses about a century ago. “Djed” is a track that is the dictionary definition of the word soundscape, an otherworldly instrumental that can transport one to places not heard outside of some of the best works in Brian Eno’s catalog.

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