This Australian trio went from relative obscurity to cult indie stardom via a combination of years' worth of work and somewhat acessable musical tendencies. They have been labelled "trance jazz" by means of critical acclaim, tho "progressive chill-out" might be a closer descriptive term. Over the past 16 years they've perfected a sort of minimalist groove-improv which stands alone in terms of comparison. Their pieces usually run about an hour long and unfurl rather slowly and deliberately, with the most discipline and patience found anywhere in modern music, always offering amazing atmospheric and textural treasures.
CHEMIST is the 13th release from Australian maverick trio The Necks, now approaching their 20th Anniversary, and still occupying a genre-group of one. Their slow, gripping, development of a single idea over the length of a whole CD, while somehow obvious, has proved un-copyable, mostly because it so much depends on the unique musical personalities and extreme virtuosity of these three, profoundly different, musicians.
Having established their theme, The Necks, with Chemist, break the habit of a lifetime and juxtapose three 20-minute tracks. Bassist Lloyd Swanton, pre-empting his critics, wrote: "We just wanted to see what we could do by contrasting different aesthetics on a single CD. These pieces are calculatedly different, and the contrast is important".
Perhaps they were hoping with this minor scandal to draw attention away from the guitar, played by drummer Tony Buck, which features on all three tracks. Another major break with tradition?
Our commercial department has, however, extensively road tested this departure from niche on a selection of fanatical Necks purists and, so far, it does seem to be working. This new release comes hot on the heels of the band winning the Bell Australian Jazz Award for the second year running, and their third APRA Award.
DRIVE BY:lies somewhere between the extremes of Hanging Gardens and Aether. The gorgeous mid tempo groove on bass and drums is particularly seductive and the textures slowly transform as dream-like sound events come and go - electronic, acoustic, and found sounds - a children's playground, a beehive, crickets, etc. As the beat goes on (and on), intermittent R&B piano chords saturate the texture, and a buzzing electric organ caresses its way through repeating subliminal blues riffs. A constant pulse played on a side drum by Tony Buck keeps the whole thing nailed down, as the rhythm track crosses between 3/4 and 4/4 time and builds to a climax, with all the extremities of Buck's excellent kit drumming vibrating with the repeating rhythms.
HANGING GARDENS: Hung around a speedy but delicate hi-hat pattern, the record sets out a 60 minute cool laid back groove. Piano and bass appear gradually, until (after about 20 minutes!) there is a sudden flowering of gorgeous piano chords. This dies back to repeated bass drum, rumbling low register piano patterns, and spooky electronic sounds. The whole process repeats several times as the tension rises and falls, sometimes almost imperceptibly, sometimes with some rather incredible fusion-esque drumming. The playing is of such a high standard, and the formal restrictions so rigorously adhered to, that there is no option but to succumb to the seductive charms of the music.
AETHER: Hanging Gardens used a single rhythm held for an hour, with sumptuous chords occasionally rising and falling at huge intervals. For the first 30 minutes of Aether they've gone even further; they've dropped the rhythm altogether, and what remains is just a single chord which emerges and then fades into nothing, again and again. There are just small variations on electric piano, bowed double bass and electronics. At the 35-minute point a high-pitched keyboard pattern gradually emerges, and imperceptibly the group swing in to a Steve Reich inspired interlocking pattern, which builds to a climax. It finally subsides into a series of hypnotic cymbal washes.
THE BOYS: The latest release by the extraordinary Australian improvising
ambient/jazz trio, The Necks, is drawn from a soundtrack the
group composed for the prize-winning Australian movie, The
Boys. For the Necks this is a revolutionary move; gone are the
hour-long shifting luminous improvisations which they have
made their own special territory. Here you will find seven short-
ish instrumentals, each developing a different sound and mood.
The usual Neck’s components ( floating acoustic piano, anchoring
double bass, and skimming drums are all present, but are set to
very different tasks. There’s a darkness absent from their other
releases, and the CD ends with full-bliown Joy Divisionish rock,
with fuzzed up bass and heavy tribal drums. Along the way, The
Necks expand on Erik Satie-like vignettes, tempered with electronic
sounds and ambiences, insistent rhythms reminiscent of the Velvet
Underground, and music and sounds that are subtly sensuous and
extremely addictive. No fan of The Necks, and no one looking for
new adventurous new directions in music, can fail to be impressed.
MOSQUITO/SEE THROUGH: This new double CD re-writes the rules yet again. Mosquito begins with the scrunching sound of a hand drum with hanging rattles being draped over percussion, while a fragmentary high piano melody tinkles in the distance. These two elements persist for the entire hour of the CD, providing a supporting texture for the most gorgeous piano chord sequence you've ever heard, gently coaxed by a ride cymbal. There's a hint of Massive Attack's 'Protection' about these chords, which just repeat in an endless melancholy ecstasy. For Lloyd Swanton Mosquito is "quite austere, but in a rewarding, refreshing way. I think it's one of the most rigorously minimalist pieces we've ever done." Austere and rigorous it may be, in terms of its beautifully organised structure and economy of means; but don't be fooled. This record is seriously haunting and sensuous.
See Through is another beast entirely. Taking its cue from the ultra minimalist Aether, it counter poses ripe piano chords and splashing cymbals (reminiscent of Alice Coltrane) against long passages of silence. Like Aether the music comes in waves, which suggest a vast scale and an open organic structure. But here the silences demand their own space, and the music operates as part of an environment, into which it constantly retreats and from which it endlessly re-appears. Lloyd Swanton again: "The initial idea for See Through came from me, having enjoyed being sucked into the deep silences at the start of Aether. I love silence set against sound. It sounds so simple as to be stating the obvious, but it's startling how few recordings actually use silence to any degree, except for the gap between the tracks. But I was thinking maybe seconds; it took Tony and Chris to take my idea and expand it way beyond what I'd envisaged." In the ReR office we've been hooked to this for weeks; beware, this music is dangerously addictive.