So a new album by The Necks, the Australian trio of Chris Abrahams, (piano) Tony Buck (drums) and Lloyd Swanton (bass and other guitar). I must admit to begin quite surprised to have been sent this new disc, an album called Mindset released here on CD on the ReR label but available in other parts of the world on other labels and also on vinyl. I have never been the biggest fan of the group, and have said as much online before, but I was determined to listen carefully to this new disc and try and be as open to it as possible. One of the things that has never really caused me to take much interest in the group historically has been their crossover potential to larger audiences, and more specifically the degree of polish and production I have always seemed to detect in their music that comes along with this. There has always seemed to be a sheen of commercialism about the group I haven’t enjoyed much. While researching a little for this post at the group’s website, I couldn’t help but notice that the site describes the trio as “one of the great cult bands of Australia”. I can only hope that the marketing team behind the group (who also sent me this CD) wrote that line for the group.
Anyway, the music… for those not familiar with the work of The Necks, they create a kind of rhythmic, often trance-like music from an improvised starting point. I haven’t heard a lot of their music, and have only a couple of albums on my shelves, but generally speaking they begin quietly, with maybe one of the group playing a small musical figure over and over in a kind of cyclical motion until the others join in and everything builds along similar lines into a revolving, highly rhythmic music that builds in density, creating a swirl of sound until things end (in the case of the two tracks here at least) with a sudden drop into silence. Â Mindset is made up of two pieces, named Rum Jungle and Daylights. The two tracks are different in their pace and choice of sounds. The opening Rum Jungle does indeed have a slight drum ‘n bass tinge to it, bursting quite quickly into an incessant, slightly off-kilter rhythm that pulses through to its conclusion. Daylights seems to include organ sounds alongside way may be an artificial piano and these elements lead the way with a hypnotic, twinkly refrain turning over slowly but continually in the foreground while the bass and cymbal -lead drums bubble and patter underneath at a faster pace. That’s about it really. As each track gradually develops its urgency seems to build. The speed of the Â tracks probably doesn’t ever actually increase, but the illusion created is that it does as the music gets steadily thicker and fuller. The second track here in particular has a very polished feel to it. I almost begin to wonder if some overdubbing has been done as the way sounds flit through the background here often sounds extremely well produced. There is a feel of Enoesque ambience here in places, or maybe Harold Budd, with whom the group are about to undertake a UK tour, but also the clockwork minimalism of the likes of Steve Reich or Arnold Dreyblatt can be traced through this music.
I have to be honest and say that after four listens to this album yesterday and today I struggle to enjoy it. As albums of improvisation go, this one feels thoroughly predictable, which may well be the intention, and the hum and pulse of the trance may be the desired outcome of the music, but for me I personally prefer more uncertainty, the potential for surprise and failure. There is of course a huge market for this music out there as it falls so neatly between avant garde, minimal techno/drum ‘n bass, post rock and ecstatic jazz territories. If a few people move from listening to Radiohead to The Necks, and then potentially they may migrate into less idiomatic improvisation then this is a good thing, but personally I find the two tracks here just that little bit too repetitive and predictable to be able to get much out of them. Writing as someone that generally finds the introduction of ongoing rhythms into improv about the least interesting area it could head into, I found the trancey pulsing of this music just somewhat boring if I am honest, perhaps because I just find myself imagining what else could be done with the same instruments if channelled into less repetitively structured areas. others of course adore the group, and their success clearly shows me to be in the grumpy minority, but I can only be honest, and say that while Mindset has the potential to sell extremely well and set many a foot tapping, it doesn’t float my boat personally.