Time Travel with Secluded Bronte and The Bohman Brothers

Monday 9 August 2021

I know it’s a little early but I’m putting this down as the best prog album of the decade. It’s based on a live gig from 2019 but I don’t care, Queen’s by Secluded Bronte, the free improv power trio of Adam Bohman, Jonathan Bohman and Richard Thomas, has all the mutable energy, serious wit, free-ranging allusions, voracious diversity and wide-open imagination that even first-rank prog claims more often than it delivers. More to the point, the three of them readily play fast and loose with both erudition and stoopidity; they must know which is which, deep down, but they will get you confused. While their Takuroku release The Horns of Andromeda was a audio crazy quilt, Queen’s is an edit made last year out of a gig at Queen’s University, Belfast and so comes with direction and momentum. An extended prologue of incoherent confessional escalates into psychodrama, with the track sequence forming an exquisite corpse of distorted movie cues, musically arresting in their own right while obliquely signalling their scorn for the moods they evoke, rather like The Fall at their most disoriented. The second half brings back spoken vignettes accompanied by field recordings, mood music, call-and-response, détourned folk music and, well, rock’n’roll. It all starts to make sense even as you understand that none of it adds up.

The Merz-like collage method at work in the Bohman brothers’ music can be heard compressed into a concise sound-object in their most recent release, In Their 70s. It’s a dense nugget of lo-fi grey noise, acerbic asides, pawky puppet-show music and strangulated distortion, all apparently recorded on the run with hand-held devices and patched together with a rough but sure sense of what feels right, even if it sounds wrong. It’s arbitrarily snipped in halves, presumably for a very short cassette. Like beauty, the humour is there to be discovered by the audience, more engaging for having been harder won. The supposed casualness of its means and motive seemed like a great encapsulation of their art in full maturity, but in yet another case of not-reading-the-notes I just realised that the material is lifted from the Bohmans’ earliest home recordings, from around the mid 1970s. It’s all in the edit, I tell myself. “The brothers’ aesthetic appears alarmingly fully-formed,” says the promotional blurb. Don’t you hate it when the hype is correct?