The 17th album by Australian improvising 3 piece The Necks is all about tranquillity. A single 68-minute piece there’ a real peacefulness to both the moods they create and the way in which the piece evolves. There are no particularly grand gestures or florid reveals, rather Open feels about developing a mood, capturing a fleeting moment. They’re using some elements of drones, and it appears some overdubbing too, as behind Chris Abrahams gorgeous piano meditations at one stage, the organ swells up, and you’d have to assume its from him playing both, though you can never be too sure, as neither percussionist Tony Buck or bass player Lloyd Swanton are playing their respective instruments at that precise moments so it could easily be one of them on vacation.
It does at times get a little busy, during a period of transition, though their use of drones tends to give an almost new age free jazz feel, as if meditative healing music has been hijacked by a low key experimentalist. The drone becomes over emphasised midway as all the other instrumentation is stripped away for some solo organ, only to be joined eventually by some bottom end tones possibly gathered from percussion. Later we’re left with gentle bass runs, occasional percussion and some rickety sound that acts like skittery electronics. It’s simultaneously restrained and patient. The knowledge coming after 16 odd albums that it’s okay to sit with this incredible mood, that the answers and development will come if they’re patient. And they are. Endlessly. This is possibly the most restrained they’ve ever been, particularly when Abraham’ begins to play the odd piano note. There’ never been so much space in their music, and Buck is dancing around instruments that aren’ even there. It’s remarkable.
It’s not really about what instrument is being played, or combination thereof. It’s also not about whether at any particular moment they’re making minimal funk, exotic electronics, Bohren and Der Club of Gore jazz, atmospheric sound design or strange melodic sound art.
The music of the Necks is experiential.
It’s about the way the music makes you feel and what it does to your mood. Possibly the most peculiar thing about the Necks is their initial ability to make you really listen to the music, to consume each morsel of sound, each texture, each instrument. You listen intently to how they structure it, the direction it travels in and marvel at small moments of transcendent genius. But over time something strange happens. You lose focus, retreat inwards, and become consumed by your own thoughts, guided perhaps by the moods they create but all the small detail is gone. Eventually after 68 minutes the music stops and you wonder what just happened? How did you get here? In this sense it feels like The Neck’ are a meditative tool, a device designed to assist you to transcend your immediate surroundings.
There may be no grand musical gestures here, but there is a certain gravity in the patience, in the space, in the hypnotic waves of sound and warm drones. The piece, though quite restrained in comparison with other Necks outings, does feel like a grand gesture, their patience and subtlety, not to mention their ability to craft gentle moods without forgoing their spirit of experimentation is nothing short of astounding. This is truly great music.