The Necks, Three (Fish of Milk)

Having experienced one of my best concert-going experiences of last year with The Necks at AMR, it was a no-brainer to pick up their latest and (by my reckoning) 16th album, Three. The album contains three tracks, and The Necks have three members. What’s more, the three tracks all clock in at around the 21-22 minute mark and hence would fit perfectly on a side of vinyl (although the album is, for the moment at least, only available on CD). All of this may or may not be coincidental.

As is by now well known, The Necks’ live performances are an accretive, totally improvised mix of piano, bass and drums, developing over the course of two 45-50 minute sets from quiet soloing to full trio sections. In the studio the group take a variety of different approaches, including other instruments being overdubbed. I’m certainly not familiar with their whole body of work, but Three seems as good a place to start as any.

Opening track “Bloom” in particular roams far from the blueprint of the group’s live style, based as it is on a blistering percussive attack, virtually unidentifiable in origin but presumably the handiwork of drummer Tony Buck. This mysterious, truculent force threatens to overwhelm the whole piece, but is finally kept in check by the diamond-hard pianistics of Chris Abrahams and by Lloyd Swanton’s seething bass runs. Occasional, exceedingly subtle sounds coming from what sounds like an analogue synthesizer only serve to deepen the mood of furrowed intensity that sustains the piece. There’s something truly miraculous about “Bloom”, a hinting at transcendence that stems (no pun intended) from its relentless forward motion and its extended durational perspective. Which is just another way of saying: it rocks.

Things get taken down several notches on “Lovelock”, a tribute to the late Damien Lovelock of the Australian group Celibate Rifles. This piece has an eerie, almost Nurse With Wound-like ambience, haunted by flickering chimes and ominous percussive interventions. Stricken by grief and loss, “Lovelock” barely manages to sustain a pulse, yet grips the listener with spare, incisive drum rolls from Buck and ghostly piano from Abrahams. From the murk and gloom there emerges a quiet, lovingly etched memorial to a departed friend.

If “Bloom” highlights The Necks’ avant rock tendencies, while “Lovelock” nods towards their industrial and dark ambient influences, then “Further” illustrates why the group still have one foot in the jazz tradition. Yet it’s a take on jazz like no other, with Abrahams’ shimmering piano positioned at shifting angles to Swanton’s sinuous bass riffing and Buck’s magisterially driven percussion. Recalling “Bloom”’s dense mosaic of sound, here Buck transmits a tense rhythmic foundation that flows seductively through the piece’s 21 minutes. Guitar and Hammond organ weave hazily in and out, as if reanimated by the group’s insistence on duration. Indeed, it’s this urge towards reanimation that goes to the heart not only of “Further” but of Three as a whole. Constantly transforming yet enduring as three into one, The Necks continue to amaze and delight.

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