Posts Tagged ‘The Necks’

Room40 – 1st September 2017

Christopher Nosnibor

In certain circles at least, Tony Buck requires little to no introduction as the percussionist of longstanding Australia purveyors of avant-jazz trio The Necks.

Unearth is an immense departure in many respects, not least of all in that it not a percussion-led composition. His first solo work, recorded over a number of years, is an expansive, long-form piece spanning some fifty-one and a half minutes.

It’s a quiet, unsettling composition, with layered sounds building and overlapping, dark rumbles and drones juxtaposing with vague clattering incidentals, hisses, scrapes, hums, drips, plops and thuds.

Around the fifteen-minute mark, conventional instrumentation emerge, with ratting percussion, sonorous bass notes and picked guitar strings drifting across sampled voices and fragmented field recordings. However, it’s clear that the tension isn’t about to break any time soon, and nor is Buck about to unleash a square slice of rock tunage. Plinks, plonks and rattles shade across creaks and yawning ultra-low bass which hangs dense and heavy in the air.

There is a transitory moment of graceful musicality around the half-hour point, where chiming guitars and irregular, delicate percussion combine to create a subtle passage that’s ethereal, atmospheric and pure post-rock. And here comes the build: cymbals clatter and crash in a rising crescendo; gongs boom, and a tempest of sound rises as if from nowhere, as the treble of electronic bleeps cut through the evolving cacophony.

Things to settle into a less disturbing, less abrasive roll of swirling ambience thereafter, with chanks and chinks trembling over skittering sinews of sound stretched over weary, low-end drones which crawl and scratch.

Nothing about Unearth is easy or accessible, although Buck’s grasp on the slow-evolving dynamic of the longform composition is abundantly clear as the gradual transitions flow s effortlessly as to be unnoticeable.

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Tony Buck -Unearth

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Room40 – 17th February 2017

Christopher Nosnibor

The title carries an implicit connotation of juxtaposition. It’s also a direct reference to the 2011 text by Lauren Berlant, which explores power and the ‘cruel optimism that has prevailed since the 1980s, as the social-democratic promise of the postwar period in the United States and Europe has retracted’ and the collapse of the liberal-capitalist dream.

English explains the album’s context as follows: ‘Over the course of creating the record, we collectively bore witness to a new wave of humanitarian and refugee crisis (captured so succinctly in the photograph of Alan Kurdi’s tiny body motionless on the shore), the black lives matter movement, the widespread use of sonic weapons on civilians, increased drone strikes in Waziristan, Syria and elsewhere, and record low numbers of voting around Brexit and the US election cycle, suggesting a wider sense of disillusionment and powerlessness. Acutely for me and other Australians, we’ve faced dire intolerance concerning race and continued inequalities related to gender and sexuality. The storm has broken and feels utterly visceral. Cruel Optimism is a meditation on these challenges and an encouragement to press forward towards more profound futures.’

For Cruel Optimism, English has enlisted, amongst others, Swans contributors Norman Westberg and Thor Harris. As their recent excursions outside Swans demonstrate, they are both musicians capable of magnificently nuanced sound – a stark contrast to the shuddering power of Swans in full force. They bring subtle, understated performances to the pieces on which they feature here. Tony Buck and Chris Abrahams of The Necks are also featured, although again, their input is suitably muted and the line-up is far from overplayed in the promotional materials which accompany the album.

A sense of contrast and contradiction is woven into the fabric of the soundscapes which combine to form Cruel Optimism, as soft layers drift down over coarser, grainer sonic terrains beneath. There are moments of darkness, shadowy, vaguely unsettling but not overtly eeriy or horrific, tempered equally by moments of tranquillity and light ‘Hammering a Screw’, as its title suggests, is an awkward, jarring piece. Sinister chords jam and jolt abrasively, rupturing the soft tissue of sound which hangs almost invisibly in the air while fluttering heartbeats pulse erratically way down in the mix. ‘Negative Drone’ rumbles ominously, a formless, amorphous cloud of sound which bleeds into the must-like atmospherics of ‘The Somnambulist’. The album ends with the entwined drones of ‘Moribund Territories’, which offers a tone of bleakness which intimates the dissipation of optimism in the face of a chilling future.

Writing in October 2016, English described the album as an album of ‘protest against the immediate threat of abhorrent possible futures’. Depressingly, those futures have arrived, and we are now living in dark, dark times. But for all of the turbulence which motivated the compositions and the underlying anxiety poured into their realisation, Cruel Optimism is a beautifully calm album, in the main – or at least, it maintains a calm exterior. As such it’s a work of peaceful protest, which succeeds in making itself heard in a loud, violent, and ugly world.

 

RM470_Lawrence_English_Cruel_Optimism

Ideologic Organ – SOMA025 – 10th February 2017

Christopher Nosnibor

The accompanying press release is instructive and informative as to the premise of the latest offering from The Necks. Entering their thirtieth year of their existence, the trio continue to innovate and to create music which expands the parameters of jazz music:

The latest document from this long-running ensemble, Unfold, presents itself as a double LP, with four side-length tracks. A deliberate absence of numbered sides hands a substantial swatch of participation over to the listener, allowing her to navigate his own path through the soundscape at hand. The shorter length of the vinyl format, far from being a constraint upon the members of the ensemble, instead offers them a more compact horizon to contemplate, wherein the distance travelled is recalibrated to more immediate and dynamic textural concerns.

The title is appropriate, in that it gives a fitting indication of the nature of the compositions. Although the vinyl format is pitched as being a ‘shorter’ format, the fact that each track occupies a full side of this double album means that each piece still has a running time of between fifteen and twenty-one minutes. And unfold is what they do: gradual evolutions, slow unfurlings and near-imperceptible outspreadings which creep from sparse to near-overwhelming.

‘Blue Mountain’ begins with a delicate piano, but over time builds in depth, tension and pace to a sustained crescendo that never quite breaks. It simmers long and leisurely, cymbal crashes rising in intensity, resembling an intro to a track on a recent Swans album. I mean this as a compliment: it’s a lengthy piece, but there’s movement, there are dynamics, there’s a tangible sense of trajectory.

Noodling Hammond keys wander over a slow, pulsating undulation on ‘Overhear’, and it’s hypnotic and mellow. Perhaps the most overtly ‘jazz’ composition, it also encapsulates perfectly the wide-ranging elements The Necks incorporate within their music. Bongos bubble up jittery rhythms while the trilling organ notes meander and weave, intersecting time signature s forging an increasing sense of spatial disorientation over time.

The tribal rhythms which dominate ‘Ride’ slowly but surely increase in pace, raising the tension as the elongated, barely perceptible notes hang in slow suspense. Ultimately, the pace reaches a frenetic peak, before collapsing into arrhythmia , a conglomeration of discord and distempo, and the fourth track, ‘Timepiece’ is nothing short of a bewildering chaos of percussion, discord and orchestrated dissonance. Against the clattering rattle of drums and more, bass notes resonate and xylophone notes ring out in different directions, and over time, it becomes increasingly unsettling disorientating, difficult.

Unfold is by no means an easy album. It’s by no means a ‘jazz’ album in conventional terms. But in terms of an album which bounces off the wall in myriad unexpected directions freeforming and freewheeling as the musicians explore interpersonal musical boundaries, it’s the epitome of jazz. It’s also really rather good. Well, it is a Necks album, after all.

The Necks - Unfold

Vegetable Records – VEGE003

Christopher Nosnibor

As pianist with The Necks, Chris Abrahams has built not only a substantial body of work but also a reputation as part of a highly respected avant-jazz ensemble. As a solo artist, he’s also produced no fewer than ten albums, and this is his fifth piano work. The album’s seven compositions are notable for being, in any resects, conventional, graceful, elegant and essentially contemporary classical, rather than experimental works.

There’s a crispness and simplicity to the compositions which is beguiling, with rolling melodies making for a soothing listening experience. Abrahams’ musicianship is magnificent, but there’s nothing showy or extravagant about the works. Rippling glissandos and gentle, sedate arabesques define the album, but ‘Overlap’ is arranged around a looping motif played with increasing intensity and force to stirring effect, and the trundling scales of ‘Fern Scrapes’ are performed with a sturdy vigour, and demonstrate a certain playfulness.

Abrahams’ lightness of touch which holds particular appeal, and the album finishes with a light, uptempo flourish that leaves a joyful calmness in the air.

 

Chris Abrahams - Climb

SOFA551 – 22nd July 2016

Christopher Nosnibor

This two-track album by a collective who suggest they ‘might be your favourite new experimental psych-impro-folk band’ is housed in a spectacularly nondescript cover. Nondescript, yet also bizarre: a pair of cabins, on wheels as though for towing, at a garage in the middle of nowhere. Rugged mountains lie in the back. What does it mean? What is it saying? The absence of any people or any sense of movement is also a factor in what makes this image so striking in its plainness. There’s a sterility about it.

This is carried through into the title of both the album and the tracks. ‘The Animal Enters and Traverses the Light’ has an air of clinicality. The sounds themselves are more of nature, yet somehow in keeping: the jangling chimes and gently thrumming rhythms would sit comfortably on the soundtrack of a nature documentary. However, as the track progresses, picked guitar strings begin to build in volume and urgency, achieving a sustained multitonal throb by the twenty-four minute track’s mid-point which gradually gives way to deliberate low-end drone, beneath which crackling burrs rattle a twitchy percussion. The musicality of a strummed acoustic guitar, however irregular and however dissonant the chords, sounds almost incongruous against the rumble which slowly fades. The shifts are gradual but definite.

‘The Human Volunteers Were Kept in Isolation’ begins subtly, a single hum, before picked guitar notes and harmonics creep in by stealth. Gentle acoustic washes glide over supple, delicate percussion.  It’s pensive and understated, and creates an atmosphere that’s hard to define, and a sound more focused on texture and tone than rigid structures. There is melody, but it’s subtle, and there is movement, but it’s not necessarily overtly linear. But to return to the question posed earlier, what does it mean?  More interesting than the cover art is the fact that this superficially conventional line-up of two guitars, bass and drums, creates such unconventional music. But this is the work of David Stackenäs, Kim Myhr, Joe Williamson and Tony Buck of the widely-acclaimed The Necks. It was never going to be straightforward. And does there have to be an extrinsic meaning? Sometimes, the exploration of sound is enough.

Circadia – Advances and Delays