(All Album Reviews by ffroyd)
The Necks are a simple band, and easy to describe. A three-piece consisting of piano, bass and drums, most of their albums contain only one long song. Thatís it. Thereís not much more to say about this Australian outfit.
The difficult part comes when you try to categorize them and this can be next to impossible. Iíve often imagined what section I would place them in at a record store. They have a sophisticated sound that might end them up in the jazz section but they donít really swing enough to be jazz. The music is a little too experimental to be deemed rock but thatís where they usually end up. Post rock? Nah. New age? Nope. I think ambient trance might be an adequate label but they sound nothing like any other artist that might be called that. Oh well, itís probably best that we donít even worry about a classification for this group. Letís move on to examining the bandís sound in a little more detail.
The key to the Necks sound is repetition. That is their main component. They are sort of like the Terry Riley of our time. Over the course of a 60-minute piece, the tempo does not change, the mood does not change, and the instrumentation does not change. Even the rhythms and notes played do not change. You would think that the same thing being played over and over would get rather boring but that isnít the case at all. Well, they essentially arenít playing the same thing over and over; the music subtly changes and evolves throughout a piece. It might even be possible to say that the music never repeats itself and is in a constant state of transformation. Every album they release is like this, even the shorter pieces on albums like Chemist and The Boys follow this same basic formula.
Chris Abrahams is the piano player. He also plays other keyboards and occasional synths but his main work is on the grand piano. He incorporates some beautiful sustained notes that add an intimate ambience to the music. His playing reminds me a bit of someone like Roger Eno or Harold Budd but in a slightly more upbeat arena. Lloyd Swanton is the bass player. He often plays the double bass but will also occasionally use an electric. The bass playing can get lost in the sea of music at times but heís always got something interesting going on. Tony Buck is the drummer. Well, calling him a drummer is a bit awkward because on many recordings (like this one) heís mostly playing the cymbals. Calling him a cymbalist would be a bit silly though. He does hit a drum every once and a while and some albums do have much more drumming than cymbal work. Tony has probably the most experience outside of the band having worked with many other artists including John Zorn, Peter Brotzmann, Ne Zhdall, Wayne Horvitz, Ground Zero, Hans Reichel and many, many others including his own band Peril.
Townsville is The Necks fourteenth album, I believe. Recorded live and named for the town in northeastern Australia where it was recorded. The single 54-minute piece is simply breathtaking with loads of piano crescendos and inventive bass work. About a third of the way through, Lloyd starts to use a bow on the bass and the result is very dramatic. For those of you that are already familiar with The Necks, this one is a bit similar to Hanging Cardens although at a much slower pace.
I will admit that it took me some time to really appreciate this band. At first I was highly doubtful that a band playing repeated themes that stretch a composition to an hour could hold my attention. There is so much going on here when you listen deeply, though. The Necks have a very intricate style that needs to be heard to appreciate. Most of the bandís catalogue can be found on the ReR label, which is unusual because that label normally deals in music that is much different. Now that I think of it, that might be the perfect label for such challenging music.
Although it is a simple format, The Necks keep advancing their craft. Each album that Iíve heard seems to push their own unique envelope even further. This is incredibly hypnotic and beautiful music and I simply canít recommend this band highly enough. They may be simple but they are very effective.