Brokeback and the Black Rock

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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. The pastoral feel of previous albums is still intact, as is Brokeback's fractured lens on the Chicago post-rock sound that his other band Tortoise helped establish. While there was an organic and sometimes rustic sensibility to the earliest albums, Brokeback and the Black Rock seems rooted in a dustier place, with growling distorted guitars meshing against sustained tremolo tones for songs growing like flowers in an arid desert. "The Wire, the Rag, and the Payoff" takes on an almost Morricone-esque spaghetti Western feel, while songs like "Gold!" and "Don't Worry Pigeon" tap into the more dynamic side of the band, rising and fading in triumphant waves. The attention to detail in both production and performance is in top form, with blissful guitar leads at times lending an almost spiritual jazz bent to the dutiful rhythm section and sheen of studio gloss. Though it took about ten years to pick up where it left off, the slow-burning momentum of Brokeback is in as great a shape here as it was at any time previously. By the album's epic 11-minute closer, "Colossus of Roads," McCombs and crew have painted a portrait of endless highways, ghost towns, and sunburnt moments of ecstatic possibility.

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