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Tuesday, September 8, 2020

The Necks - Three (Northern Spy, 2020) ****½

By Lee Rice Epstein

Is The Necks free-improv’s John Luther Adams? Has any other group accomplished so much variety, plumbing endless depths, underneath a veneer of minimalism? And what about the impression of self-seriousness one might infer from titles that could easily pass for 20th-Century pomo social novels: Aether, Silverwater, Hanging Gardens. And yet. As an earlier album teased with its title Piano Bass Drums, a droll wit precedes moments of sublimity. Piano by Chris Abrahams. Bass by Lloyd Swanton. Drums by Tony Buck. It’s a straightforward math equation, where one and one and one make, ahh but you get the joke. The cleverest part of Three, their latest full-length, is playing against type after their brilliant 2018 album Body. Notably, the majority of The Necks albums have featured a single, unbroken recording, around an hour long, give or take. A handful of albums, including Three, feature separate tracks and appear to use a predefined structure or set of parameters, akin to, but not exactly, composition. Like many of their studio albums, Three also has Abrahams, Swanton, and Buck using production tools as a fourth voice in their ensemble, giving the effect of a hyperreal performance. The album evolves over, here it comes again, three tracks: “Bloom,” “Lovelock,” and “Further.” The opening minutes of “Bloom” ooze from the speakers, like ink dripped onto blotting paper. Because of its typical role as the lead instrument in a traditional piano trio, Abrahams’s ebbs and flows surface more quickly than Swanton’s bobbing bass lines, but the two establish an equilibrium that builds tension through their sustained high-wire act. How long can they balance atop Buck’s shuddering, percussive backbeat? Has the chord progression reversed itself, or have I? In “Lovelock,” Buck plays crystalline chimes against waves of electronic patterns and a simply gorgeous piano line from Abrahams. In 20 minutes, the trio oscillates between subterranean diversions and brightly lit cadenzas, steadily amplifying (no pun intended) that fourth voice of the studio. “Further” begins almost as a bloody mash-up of the two preceding tracks, with a loping beat that steadily pushes against steadiness itself. Swanton and Buck duel like drunken masters, while Abrahams coasts around their playful rhythms. As with most other albums from The Necks, the joys reveal themselves over many, many listens. And just like those other albums, this one will be on repeat for a long time.

Available on Bandcamp

The Necks Three was previously reviewed by Stephen Griffith here.