The gentle and then – all of a sudden – furious virtuosity of The Necks is a thrilling thing to discover. And then to rediscover across the albums. Sometimes – as with Open – they’re set in a quiet, understated framing, or, as with the more recent Unfold it’s about working to a format, creating pieces that fit for sides of vinyl and showcase a variety of sonic explorations. They tinker with textures and make hypnotic mood-pieces by combining melody and rhythm, by moving minimalism and modern classical/ambient towards a jazz space.
And they’ve never sounded more alive, more vital than here on their 20th release and in celebration of their 30th Anniversary.
Body begins the way of many albums by The Necks – an all-in for piano ostinato, probing bass and the steady pulse of a ride cymbal.
If you’re a longtime fan and follower of the band you might feel that Body is a reminder of Hanging Gardens or Drive-By – following the pace set on those releases and back to the classic Necks tracklisting, one song, a roughly 60-minute title track.
But something magical happens on Body – and though something magical happens on every album by The Necks here it almost feels like revealing the punchline, or offering a plot-spoiler.
Chris Abrahams (piano/keyboards), Lloyd Swanton (bass and double bass) and Tony Buck (drums/percussion) have always treated their hour-long through-composed/improvised pieces as a template – and in and around the organic sounds we have shimmers of tambourine and electronics. There is space. Always plenty of space. Arguably their music is an exploration of space. But here something new and bold happens roughly midway through.
Alright, I’ll tell you. If you’re still reading you know The Necks well. Maybe you’ve even heard the album already.
As Abrahams’ piano disappears for a moment, then returns to single notes with ripples of organ across it, Swanton moves to punctuating strokes from the bass and Buck’s ride cymbal fades away, replaced by tambourine. Nothing super unsual about that.
But when we next hear from Tony Buck it’s an acoustic guitar that enters in an almost Mike Oldfield-kind of way. Once the cymbal returns – and then a big, proud boom-bap squall-of-rock backbeat, the folkish acoustic guitar aside is being scribbled over by shards of electric that feel like Mick Turner channelling Sonny Sharrock.
It’s The Necks – but not quite as we’ve known them. And yet it sounds utterly, compellingly, like The Necks.
Body is, once again, the band at the peak of its powers. And the movement and expression and exploration on this album is deeper and bolder than ever before.
How wonderful and likely to have a band like this still reaching new career-best moments.
They’re a treasure. And this is just the latest gold.
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