Night music for the adventurous listener
Australian three piece The Necks don’t like to rush things, their 20th album Body consists of one track that lasts an hour. They take the notion of a slow build to new extremes yet maintain interest throughout with a combination of drums and guitar from Tony Buck, Chris Abrahams on piano and keyboards and Lloyd Swanton on double bass, conjuring up a sound that is neither jazz nor rock but owes something to Steve Reich and Philip Glass, and no it’s not classical in any way whatsoever. What it is is a mesmerising repetition of a theme that somehow never grows tired thanks to the subtle variations that the band inject. Those familiar with Hanging Gardens by the same band will have an idea of where Body is at, it shares the same vibe, a slowly fluctuating collage of sounds that ebb and flow like gentle waves. There is usually a ride cymbal and a slow throb on the bass alongside a kick drum heartbeat but nothing is totally constant, the bass shifts to bowing, cymbal is replaced with tambourine and all the while the keyboard ventures in and out, with piano and organ both together and separate.
The changes come slowly but it’s beautiful when they do, for a long time there is no sign of guitar for instance but then you realise it’s part of the picture in place of then alongside the drums. Body sounds improvised and I suspect that it is for the most part but there are often more than three instruments in the mix and things get positively rocked out as the half way point approaches. This comes as something of a jolt, that breaks the reverie, the tempo picks up and an electric guitar gets loud and the keys and rhythm join in. It’s an outlet for the restraint that precedes it and, if you can cope with the more abrasive tone of the electric guitar, has a similarly transcendent effect. This is the climax that the first half has built up to, it’s just longer and more insistent than usual, in many ways it takes Robert Fripp’s (King Crimson) inclination to build up tension for as long as possible to its natural conclusion.
What follows is a slow wind down, a long cruise to the finish denouement, the reduction in intensity being something of a necessity after the power of the preceding wig out. The tempo goes down again and bells, reverberant piano and bowed bass take over, it’s serene by comparison but does slowly build up with drums that explode in dramatic style just so as you don’t get too relaxed. The effect is enhanced by cymbals, bells and low piano notes, creating a full on soundscape of considerable scale. An alien soundscape at that but an inviting one with it, the Necks create their own world with Body, it’s a body of sound whose presence is palpable in the room. This isn’t going to be getting airplay on the anytime soon, it’s night music for the adventurous listener.