The work of the Necks - LICK MY DECALS OFF, BABY! #23

Many years ago in my daily quest of researching and trying to find new music, I stumbled across The Necks. At first they were just a name, and an amusing one at that, but reading about them simply intrigued me. A conventional jazz trio of piano, bass and drums, only playing pieces of an improvisational nature that were typically rooted in minimalism and repetition, and that usually lasted about an hour. Being a glutton for “difficult” music, it didn’t take much further reading to convince me that this was a band I should check out. As each of their CD’s are roughly an hour long with a minimal amount of exposition or change, I’m going to focus on a few albums for this article. The best ones, of course.

1999: Hanging Gardens

Hanging Gardens probably is less typical of The Necks’ sound than of their mentality. While it revolves around repetition and subtle development, Hanging Gardens is aggressive, furious and pulsating. Tony Buck, the drummer, leads the proceedings with a fast-paced, persistent groove, adding fills as the song progresses and upping the ante at certain points with dazzling results. The bass and piano are secondary to proceedings here, mostly exploring some repeated themes in the lower register, keeping the tension brimming until about 22 minutes when the piano suddenly erupts in a joyous fashion, as if finally breaking free from its previous restraint. Aside from these brief few minutes, Hanging Gardens is more or less constant for 60 minutes, the changes and developments being the most subtle of subtle – perhaps an extra cymbal crash there, emphasis on a different part of the beat there. Electric piano and organ drift in and out mysteriously. Hanging Gardens is a brooding, intense piece of work.

2001: Aether

It was over a year since I had first come across the name of this band and I STILL hadn’t bought any of their CD’s. Perhaps I had lost interest, perhaps I thought having a CD with only one hour-long track on it would just be a novelty, or perhaps it was because their CD’s were too expensive for me risk buying considering I’d never heard anything by the band before. I suspect it was the latter.  But for about 15 or 16 months, I more or less forgot about The Necks. Then one day I was in Tower Records in Dublin (one of my favorite places to be ever, although it used to be a whole lot better when the Pound: Euro exchange rate worked more in my favor) I heard a stunning piece of music playing from the shop speakers. I was listening to it for about 10 or 20 minutes while browsing the music, and I just had to ask what it was. And of course, it was The Necks – this album, Aether. That sealed the deal. Came home and bought this CD and Hanging Gardens, and not for a moment do I regret it.

Aether is in complete contrast to Hanging Gardens. Whereas the former was furious, dynamic and energetic, Aether is an exercise in ambience and new age music.  Beginning timidly with a few minutes of cymbal swashes, dark bass notes and copious use of silence, Aether evolves slowly, like a flower blooming. Surely and steadily it is driven forwards from timidity to confidence, from jaggedness and uncertainty to a full-fledged ambient workout. Aether is perhaps the most steady and minimalist of the Necks’ work, rarely deviating from its repeated phrases, but it builds them up in such an entrancing way that it’s hard to deny its power.

2003: Drive By

Once again, a change of pace for The Necks, this album is caught somewhere halfway between Hanging Gardens and Aether. It has a driving, steady drum beat a la the former, but this beat is slower, funkier, more controlled. The drummer doesn’t dominate this piece, instead, it’s the pianist Chris Abrahams who takes the lead role here.  Beginning the piece with a repeated synth pattern, the other two musicians join in slowly, building up the atmosphere of the piece from contemplative ambience to a chilled out groove. The drummer, Tony Buck, doesn’t much deviate from his controlled, half-funk beat, and the bassist’s contribution is almost negligible for most of the piece. He dominates perhaps a 10-15 minute portion of the song at the beginning with a tense, pulse-like motif interspersed with some tense overdubs. However, it’s Abrahams who makes this piece what it is, layering some washes of ambient synthesizer and dissonant organ into the piece to layer it and create a bit more tension, and not to mention his wonderful piano playing. For about 20 minutes in the middle of the piece his piano is predominant, giving way to more development in the sound than in perhaps any other Necks piece. The drums and bass are steady, and repetitive, but the piano constantly changes, shimmering and weaving its way through a series of clusters and motifs. Unlike Hanging Gardens where he more or less plays the same 3 motifs for 60 minutes, his playing on Drive By constantly evolves and changes to create a dream-like atmosphere. With the pedal down, his notes are echoed and sustained to further add to the glistening haze. The playing reveals tension and restraint, but suggests a beauty, a beauty that is perhaps far off. The tension is further explored later in the piece with a slightly dissonant organ sound in the lower registers. Drive By is an album to fully pervade your senses, suggesting that fine balance between dreaming and hallucination. It’s a truly wonderful piece of work and perhaps my favorite album by the band.

Words - Adam

Got the shivers all over from the awesomeness? Thought so. Why not check out what we've said about Ali Farka Touré or Miles Davis. Savour and spread it around!

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