Heavens above, a Necks album with more than one track. What is the world coming to?
I wrote several months back about seeing them at the Band on the Wall, and indeed there are echoes of that gig here. The arco bass, the busy, chittering, percussion, the romantic melodies spilling out from the piano. The difference here is the use of other keyboards to fill out the sound, Abrahams tends to use them as an ambient wash, or a measured background feature, or on one track, replacing the piano completely.
Opener “Rise” does reflect the recent BOTW gig more than the rest of selections. The disparate, yet inclusive, three elements of the sound develop organically over fifteen minutes. Abrahams almost seems to be searching for the melody on this keyboard, and it is a restless exploration. Buck fills in the corners with a combination of what sounds like mutant castanets, and probing snare/tom statements. Swanton creates unworldly noises that weave in between the melody and the percussion. I imagine a Samuel Beckett play transformed into a musical form would sound like this. It builds to a frenetic, approaching manic, high with Buck dominating and taking the lead role as the piano falls away.
Track 2 “Overhear” retains the percussive motif of the opener, Abrahams leads on what sounds like a Hammond, and Swanton provides a bowed pulse in the background. It has that eerie sound Bo Hansson captured on his “Lord of the Rings” album. There’s an unrelenting hypnotic churning rhythm, as Abrahams delivers flurries of notes, that almost moves into a rock rhythm towards the latter end of the piece. Again it builds to a crescendo.
“Blue Mountain” is next, a little less abstract than the usual Necks construction. There is sense of some sort of preconceived shape for a while at least, but this does eventually develop into something more ethereal. Bucks brush and cymbal work is exceptional, piano dominates but there is an underlying Hammond element. Swanton is not so evident until a few minutes in when the bowed bass creates a restless counterpoint to the piano melody. After that it us pure Necks improvisation with sections of intense sound as the bass becomes a percussion instrument and the twin keyboards fight for space against a cinematic backdrop from the array of the other percussion devices.
The album concludes with the longest track, at 21 minutes, “Timepiece”. We are into more familiar free improv territory at the outset. Buck makes his kit sound like running water, or an alarm clock (hence the title I assume), Abrahams drops shimmering notes, Swanton plucks an occasional note, or a harmonic. It gently feels it’s way through an abstract jungle of sounds, with Buck perhaps the most dominant. Completely unique in that entrances this listener in a way that other improv does not in that it is reflective of what has gone before. There is no precedent or template for this music, other than prior Necks releases.
No doubt that people who cannot abide this sort of thing will come out with the usual “when does the tune start” comment, and therein lies the philosophy of this band, there is melody, percussion, and rhythm but it is completely unique, expect the unexpected.
The bonus of this, if one were needed, is that here is a Necks release I can feature in the podcasts without any editing.