Slow rock is an interesting label, mostly because it’s applied to music that’s not so much rock as stylistic octopus. Brokeback, who often share that tag with fellow Thrill Jockey band Tortoise, were founded by Tortoise member Douglas McCombs so that he could indulge his joy in playing the fat, twangy Fender Bass Six. Over three CDs, the project has evolved into a glorious fusion of psychedelia and atmospherics with legs in jazz, rock, blues, Mantovani-era easy listening, spaghetti-western themes, electronica, and anything else that crosses the minds of McCombs and co-leader Noel Kupersmith.
These nine instrumentals, three with vocals by the late Mary Hansen of Stereolab, reach back to the ’60s for their foundations. The percussion that ushers in " The Suspension Bridge at Iguazú Falls, " a cinematic Tortoise composition, is pure Ennio Morricone. The peripatetic fuzz guitar in " Everywhere Down Here " spazzes like early Neil Young. And the kind of singing, clean-picked Fender/Mosrite six-string tunes the Ventures perfected crop up everywhere — even as counterpoint to the bubbling electronic beats of " The Wind-Up Bird. " It’s fair to say there’s nothing new here, and also that it doesn’t matter. These sounds have an enduring appeal, not only because they’re some of the hippest pop signatures of the past half-century, but because McCombs and Kupersmith really know how to use them — in the service of spare, stone-chiseled melodies.
(Brokeback open for Califone at the Middle East this Monday, April 21. Call 617-864-EAST.)