Release Date: Jan 22, 2013
Record label: Thrill Jockey
Pausing for almost a decade after the release of 2003's Looks at the Bird, Tortoise member Douglas McCombs' long-running side project Brokeback re-emerged with an entirely new lineup and eventually Brokeback and the Black Rock, the entity's fourth proper full-length. With so much time passing since the group's last output, and a mostly new cast of players, McCombs rallied his troops together for a year or two of intensive rehearsals and gigging before they entered the studio to record the new material. This game plan resulted in a tight and heavily polished sound on the album's eight songs of wandering, guitar tone-driven instrumentals.
Last time we heard from Brokeback, on the 2003 album Looks at the Bird, they sounded positively alien. The band, a long-running side project for Tortoise and Eleventh Dream Day's Douglas McCombs, had stiffened up, sometimes getting lost in a welter of meticulously constructed electronics. But 10 years later, things are markedly different. McCombs has lost bass player and longstanding Brokeback member Noel Kupersmith, and has mostly shed the jazz and electronic leanings of past records under this name.
After a decade, Brokeback break their silence. Led by Tortoise's Douglas McCombs, the Brokeback family expands on Black Rock. Once a solo project for McCombs, he decided to pull in Noel Kupersmith for 2003's Look at the Bird. This time around, McCombs has something of a full-fledged band, after bringing in three musicians (Pete Croke, James Elkington, Chris Hansen) to create this new eight-track record.
I was under the impression that Brokeback died with Mary Hansen. True, the band started as a side project that bassist Douglas McCombs tinkered with while windy city post-rockers Tortoise were taking siestas. But over the years, Brokeback turned from one man’s fascination into a nebulous collective of improvisers that started acquiring members from other genres such as jazz (Rob Mazurek, Chad Taylor) and pop (Hansen and Laetitia Sadier of Stereolab).
Originally conceived way back in 1995 as a stripped-down solo project for Doug McCombs – in-between duties for Tortoise and Eleventh Dream Day – to explore the minimalistic and melodic possibilities of the 6-string bass guitar, Brokeback evolved into a far more sociable and eclectic enterprise over three studio albums between 1999 and 2003. Drawing in a roving cast of members on loan from the Chicago Underground Quartet, Stereolab, Calexico and Tortoise, McCombs forged an increasingly inspired instrumental-led vision that drew together strands of blissful bass-centric jazz, balmy tropicalia, Tom Verlaine’s wordless Warm And Cool and lashings of Morricone’s seminal twangscapes. On 2003’s exceptional Looks At Bird McCombs seemingly reached the peak of his Brokeback ascent, with the prospect of a sequel seemingly fading as his work rate increased elsewhere with – amongst others – his aforementioned mothership bands and as one-half of an avant-garde guitar duo alongside David Daniell.