Expectations are set up only to be subverted on The Necks’ latest long-player.
Bill Tilland 2011
Sixteen albums and 25 years ago, the three Australians who make up The Necks got together to make some music. They all had separate and active careers at the time – pianist Chris Abrahams and bassist Lloyd Swanton as in-demand session players and drummer Tony Buck as a collaborator on various avant-garde projects. But together, they developed a unique form of collective musical expression that has sustained them ever since, eventually giving them international exposure and recognition.
The Necks’ methodology is simplicity itself. Layered rhythmic pulses, repeated patterns and small, incremental changes lead the listener down a path of ongoing, almost organic musical discovery. A phrase appears once, is repeated, then inverted, then disappears – only to be reborn in another key or at another tempo. Tones appear discretely, then coalesce, then separate again. Ghostly premonitions emerge from a primordial wash of sound and then fade away.
Over the years, The Necks have gradually introduced more electronic enhancements into their repertoire of sounds. On Rum Jungle, the first of the two typically long pieces here (both are over 20 minutes), these elements create a thick, clotted atmosphere which is enveloping but sometimes almost claustrophobic. Buck’s crashing cymbals and the thumping pulse of Swanton’s stand-up bass put things in motion, and Abrahams soon adds his rolling boil on piano, creating harmonics reminiscent of minimalist Charlemagne Palestine. At the 13-minute mark, after the basic patterns have been developed and extended, new wrinkles (sharp chime tones, an organ drone, an unexpected chord) magically appear – and within the established musical context, they seem startling and curiously profound. Psychologically, it’s all about setting up and then subverting expectations.
The second piece, Daylights, uses the same basic strategy but to radically different effect. Proceedings begin with processed temple bells, improvised melodic fragments from the piano and two separate lines from the bass, one an impressionistic thumping and the other a steady but leisurely pulse. Organ drones and other tiny sounds provide a lush background carpet, but the piano is predominant throughout, with Abrahams teasing every possible variation out of the same basic chord sequence – even while new sounds, including curious electronic insect buzzing, continue to weave their way into the carpet. More than anything else, this track reminds one of Brian Eno’s On Land, another brilliant sonic recreation of a natural environment.