Artist: The Necks
Genre: Experimental, Avant-Garde, Ambient
Quality: mp3, 320 kbps
Blue Mountain (20:59)
The Necks have never been much for tracklists. With some early and not always impressive exceptions near the dawn of the group’s almost three-decade career, the improvisational Australian trio has preferred to go the distance in one, perhaps two extended takes. For an hour or so at a time, restless drummer Tony Buck, patient bassist Lloyd Swanton, and soulful pianist and organist Chris Abrahams would slip into sound worlds of their own design and slowly morph, as if on an evolutionary timeline. Their best records, like 2001’s essential Aether or 2013’s consummate Open, gradually subside and swell, drive and drift. By stretching pieces past the hour mark, they could change one’s very sense of dynamics, where tiny shifts in volume or tone or speed suddenly felt revelatory. With the Necks, it seemed, anything could happen if you listened long enough.
But that approach ends abruptly on Unfold, the Necks’ 19th album and first for Ideologic Organ, the label of fellow slow-motion traveler Stephen O’Malley, of Sunn O))) fame. For this double LP, the Necks devote each of four sides to one improvisation. With runtimes between 15 and 22 minutes, they’ve chopped the typical Necks tune into thirds or quarters. What’s more, there’s no intended sequence for these sides, meaning you could start with the hectic, gamelan-like rumble of “Timepiece” or end there, a move that makes the entire experience feel like a ceaseless fever dream. It’s a surprisingly indeterminate decision for a group whose output has always felt, no matter how improvisational it was, meticulous, even hermetic. Since the mid-’90s, the Necks’ records have invariably offered micromanaged adventure; with Unfold, they let you shape your own tale by giving you tracks without a tracklist.
Still, all of the Necks hallmarks appear at some point during Unfold—hyperactive drumming that expands and contracts any real sense of meter; piano lines that can summon a storm or conjure a presiding calm; bowed bass that rattles the room*.* And though the Necks look like a jazz trio, their swing is tempestuous and their approach nebulous, with touches of post-rock and soul and Stockhausen and gospel wrapped into their orchestrated mess.
by Grayson Haver Currin