Brokeback is the name of Tortoise bassist Douglas McCombs' side project. Following two 7" EPs, in 1999 he released the project's first full-length, Field Recordings from the Cook County Water Table, which revealed a slightly less constricted version of the post-rock sound Tortoise had made famous.
Relying heavily on a Fender six-string bass, Brokeback began as a minimalist fusion of low-end jazz and a plethora of other influences, ranging from rock to ambient to hip-hop. Field Recordings featured a number of musicians associated with the Chicago ambient circuit, including vocalist Mary Hansen of Stereolab and trumpeter Rob Mazurek and percussionist Chad Taylor of the Chicago Underground Duo. On a tour following the release of their first album, McCombs, Taylor, Mazurek, and upright bassist Noel Kupersmith began experimenting more with improvisation, which led to the next turn in the band's career path.
In preparation for their sophomore album, Morse Code for the Modern Age: Across the Americas, Kupersmith was added to the permanent lineup, making Brokeback a two-bassist endeavor. The project that started out as a solo project had evolved into a highly collaborative affair. Also brought on board for this recording -- a more free-form production than its predecessor -- were Tim Foljahn (Two Dollar Guitar), James McNew (Yo La Tengo), and, once again, Mary Hansen of Stereolab. The year 2003 found yet another iteration of the band recording the third Brokeback album, Looks at the Bird.
Things grew very quiet on the Brokeback front for many years, until McCombs assembled a new band in 2010 to revitalize the Brokeback name. Joining him this time around were Pete Croke (Tight Phantomz, Head of Skulls!), Chris Hansen (Pinebender, Head of Skulls!), and James Elkington (the Zincs). The quartet rehearsed tirelessly and gigged often for the next year, tightening up its sound before entering the studio to record Brokeback and the Black Rock, a proper fourth album released in early 2013. With a shifted lineup, including new drummer Areif Sless-Kitain (the Eternals), Brokeback released Illinois River Valley Blues in 2017. ~ Kieran McCarthy