The world needs to hear The Necks. I say this not merely on the grounds that over the span of 18 albums they’ve managed to keep things fresh, but because it is a rare treat to come across an act that is as unclassifiable as they are inherently listenable. I’ll be the first to admit my tendency to dismiss jazz. Sure, I’ve spent some Sunday afternoons with Coleman, Coltrane, Davis and the likes – maybe throwing in a little Sun Ra for good measure – but discovering The Necks was discovering a reimagined form of jazz that, although being niche, succeeded in bringing seemingly disparate sonic worlds into harmony.
I’ve no compass for contemporary jazz, whether it’s free-jazz, fusion, improv, whatever… I’d be hard pressed to name five acts. However, sitting in this comfortable chair while the dying minute of “Rum Jungle,” the A side from 2011’s Mindset, is filling the room with a glorious cacophony, I can almost guarantee that there isn’t another trio out there that sounds quite like The Necks.
The band is from Australia, made up of Chris Abrahams (piano), Tony Buck (drums), and Lloyd Swanton (stand-up bass), and at first glance they appear as conventional an act as any behind their purely acoustic set-up. However, within the first 10 minutes of one of their albums or concerts (the trio building a bit of a reputation as must-see performers), one gets the sense that The Necks are making music that is uniquely their own. A typical Necks album is roughly an hour, generally starting slowly: a bass pluck here, a piano note there. Over the duration of their pieces, a long, shallow arc begins to materialize in the listener’s perception. The exact nature of the arc, and its unfolding, is different every time, and so, the resultant music, though immediately recognizable, is never predictable.
Four years ago The Necks released their first LP on vinyl, and just weeks ago their second. Today, Alcohol the Seed looks at how the band have had to adapt to the format, and whether or not something fundamental to their sound has been lost as a result.
The Necks – Mindset
ReR Megacorp/Fish of Milk, 2011
As old as the cd itself is the argument of its superiority for presenting long, uninterrupted pieces of music. It is true. A slab of vinyl simply cannot contain a typical Necks piece without being split into two or three sections, likely compromising the band’s intent for how one should experience that piece. The easy way around this? Produce shorter tracks.
The Necks have done just that, their dry run being 2006’s Chemist, followed by Mindset in 2011, which saw the band’s first foray into vinyl with a digestible 22 minutes per side. The energy behind Mindset is palpable, especially in an immediate sense. “Rum Jungle” is the band’s most spirited offering, hardly letting up its mélange of bombastic drumming, bass swells and fluttering piano throughout. The latter half even brings a heavily distorted guitar into the mix, a rare use of the instrument from the band. The flip sees The Necks slow things down with “Daylights,” creaking forward eerily from a primordial stew, as though harkening to the origins of life. Midway through Tony Buck’s drums creep in, not to keep time but to elongate it with a simmering, skittered propulsion of brushes over skins. Chris Abrahams remains stoic behind the keys, giving enough way for percussive scrapes and ambiguous tactile rumblings to surface and worm their way through. It all comes to an almost too abrupt end with a signifying cymbal crash.
The Necks – Vertigo
Northern Spy, 2015
Vertigo is The Necks’ recent LP, and as a single 44 minute work, feels less suited to the vinyl format. As an album, Mindset felt tailormade for vinyl, the band channeling their process – a large part of which is improvised – into a much shorter frame of time. The result was The Necks at the top of their game, harnessing a sense of clarity that expunged any chance of unnecessary meandering – something 2013’s Open was somewhat guilty of.
Similarly, Vertigo’s main fault is its tendency to stray from a cohesive narrative. The unpredictability of the trio has always been seeded in the sounds themselves, but one always had a sense of where the band was going. Lately, it’s felt more up in the air on all fronts, except for the assurance of the sound of a retracting tone arm from a record player at the very end.