fri 05/03/2021

CD: The Necks - Vertigo | reviews, news & interviews

CD: The Necks - Vertigo

CD: The Necks - Vertigo

Veteran improvisers' 18th album both epically filmic and texturally detailed

The Necks: Hydra-like musical exploration, both dangerous and vulnerable

It seems perverse and self-defeating to record Australian piano trio The Necks. Acquiring over 25 years a reputation as the ultimate long-form improvisers, their single-take performances unfold with intricate, mesmerising drama, each one differing according the environment, acoustic, and mood. A dedicated groupie who followed this month’s extensive European tour (15 venues, 19 gigs, 19 days) would hear a noticeably different piece every time.

It seems perverse and self-defeating to record Australian piano trio The Necks. Acquiring over 25 years a reputation as the ultimate long-form improvisers, their single-take performances unfold with intricate, mesmerising drama, each one differing according the environment, acoustic, and mood. A dedicated groupie who followed this month’s extensive European tour (15 venues, 19 gigs, 19 days) would hear a noticeably different piece every time. So there’s something of the lepidopterist’s specimen about the idea of fixing these organic musical creatures in the binary certainty of a recording.

Looking down from their achievement is enough to make anyone feel a bit giddy

This is the band’s 18th album. Their titles often have a poetic intensity and allusiveness, and though the publicity material makes no mention of it, there’s a Hitchcockian menace and surprise about this one, from the ominous opening rumble of bass and bottom-end piano, and clattering percussion, as if a skeleton is falling down the stairs. While some of their work has exploited subtly altering patterns of groove for its effects, Vertigo uses tone, mood and texture, with long passages of eerie percussion, groaning bowed bass and further, abrupt skeletal eruptions that would serve a thriller well. Also filmic is the band’s ability to combine both epic-scale evocations of atmosphere with detailed, almost incidental scraps of sound, as if setting up a particular plot moment. It hardly needs saying that Chris Abrahams, Tony Buck and Lloyd Swanton have an uncanny mutual understanding: while Buck, the percussionist, creates most of the immediate incident, while the other two work on a bigger canvas, yet the whole effect is so potent, it’s still remarkable. 

Despite the freedom of it all, there is a kind of formula, and the trio’s meandering musical lines are quite quickly recognisable. Vertigo, then, is different, but it’s also the same, in that it couldn’t possibly be by anyone else. It’s hard enough to create a unique sound for one album, but The Necks have been doing it regularly for a quarter of a century. Looking down from their achievement is enough to make anyone feel a bit giddy.

@matthewwrighter

There’s something of the lepidopterist’s specimen about fixing organic musical creatures in the binary certainty of a recording

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