The Necks need little in the way of an introduction – which perhaps is simply this reviewer being lazy, or avoiding the potential scrutiny of the conscientious CD reader/listener. One is loathe to be put in the position where they must concisely describe what the Necks are, what their “sound” is, find possible comparative artists, or locate a convenient pigeonhole…because any attempts to do so will fail miserably. Attending a number of Necks performances over the past 20 years, and even interviewing them in 1995 following the release of Aquatic places me in no better a position than the average punter. Over the years, vain attempts to locate their sound somewhere between minimalism, ambient, and European prog jazz have been shot down by increasingly diverse sounds and instrumentation, the involvement of guest artists, and the use of electronic interventions.
On first glance, Silverwater is like so many of the The Necks’ past 14 recordings, and reflects the modus operandi of their live performances – a single long work, characterised by a distinct ebb and flow created by the layering of motifs, reverb, instrumentation and dynamic control. However, this recording takes steps in different directions, introducing unusual textures and more widely varied secondary structures within the work. In differing from their previous efforts, The Necks also introduce the edgy sounds and samples that veer much more heavily into the field of electronica, embracing the digital and analogue in equal parts. As skilled masters in improvisation and experimentation, these soundscapes are a natural extension to the preoccupations of the past. Interestingly though, it is almost as if the crispness of the glitch and blips infuse the work with less direct intensity than is usual for the Necks oeuvre. The tumultuous, sometimes battle-like crescendos of past recordings are close to non-existent on this recording, and the background anxiety of the repetitive motifs is kept at bay by slithering cymbal washes amongst the oft-subtle drumming.
At the end of the day, none of these studio recordings can beat the experience of hearing The Necks live – so whilst this album is another intriguing and alluring step in their fascinating musical journey, I do recommend taking the opportunity to attend a live performance should it arise. In fact, you should get right onto that, because The Necks are touring Australia in 2010 across February and March. See you there…