Northern Spy Records / Fish of Milk / Shock
Celebrating the passing of three decades together – pointing to the fact that there’s been no line-up changes, the three founder members remaining (still and always) Three is also comprised of three individual 20-minute instrumental pieces; where often The Necks play for one whole side of a vinyl LP or even more commonly the length of a CD – be that 45 or 50 or even 70 minutes – here it is to comparatively shorter ‘songs’. Not for the first time in their career, but Three is definitely something a little different.
The Australian trio has always moved fluidly between the jazz, ambient and noise worlds – using improvisation and through-composition as their tools, essentially ‘building’ music, sometimes all but ‘discovering’ it.
Here they seem to contain those genre-slices to individual songs – opener Bloom is all noise, rattling percussion and unease. And, yes, you can point to the more ‘rock out’ elements of Body or even Vertigo – but it’s most similar to the shards-of-noise moments and general relentlessness on Mindset (given that was comprised of two roughly 20-minute tracks, written to fit the sides of a vinyl, just as Bloom was written specifically to be one-third of Three).
And if that abrasive opener scares you momentarily from what you thought was the sound of The Necks you will enjoy the ambient whirl of Lovelock – all whodunnit-BBC drama piano soundscapes against the persistent dark mood of bass and drums. And if it has precedent in The Necks’ catalogue it’s perhaps most similar to the individual pieces across the sprawling double-album Unfold.
And then we arrive at closing track, Further.
This returns us to The Necks of their earliest, most overtly ‘Jazz’ albums…
The walking bassline, the purposeful piano glissandos and the slinky cymbal pulse, it’s lovely and loping and it’s then – at the start of the third and final song on this, their 21st album – that you realise that Three might be the most calculated Necks album.
But that’s not a criticism.
It speaks to the cleverness of this band.
And if you’re going to survive more than 30 years in this musical world of diminishing returns, already a ‘fringe’ act from the very start, who better to celebrate the little victories than the band itself.
You can hear Three as the band returning, bit by bit to the separate vestiges within its roots – starting out in full noise – and very nearly rocking out – as has been the case on more recent records. Then we return to the middle-years of the group, the ambient, crepuscular mood/swing music they made across the late 1990s and early 2000s. Finally we go back to their version of jazz, something they started with in the mid/late-80s.
You can also almost attribute each piece to an individual member; to their characteristics. Bloom’s sonic assault is drummer Tony Buck. Lovelock hinges on pianist Chris Abrahams – so much so that it’s as similar to his solo work as anything in The Necks’ catalogue could ever be. Finally, Further rides on Lloyd Swanton’s liquid bassline.
Of course that’s just the way I’m seeing and hearing it. And as always there’s more to unpack on further listens.
I’m just glad they’re still there. They still care. And I sure do too.
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