The Necks

Booking for Australian band The Necks’ June 26th gig at the Barbican opened yesterday. The gig is selling well.

As a preview of the gig, Geoffrey Winston has reviewed their CD Silverwater (ReR), released last autumn.

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Recorded and mixed in The Necks’ native NSW, mastered in Brooklyn, and packaged in elegant matt monchrome, Silverwater is a mélange rather than a pot pourri, rich in the sum of its parts.

Silverwater hints at a humid, far-eastern landscape – temple bells and gongs and a bamboo-like clattering. Lagoons of sound are combined with acoustic episodes referencing jazz, rock and minimalism.

A sustained organ hum opens Silverwater’s uninterrupted 67 minutes, underpinning chimes, bells and the metallic and glass tones which ensue. A first throaty piano note strikes a dramatic tone, and one of Silverwater’s strongest themes is introduced – the insistent rattle of light wooden timpani, endlessly processed and reprocessed. Repetition is an essential part of Silverwater’s vocabulary.

Flowing drum rolls and a hammered piano note establish a percussive flavour. The chimes and tones coalesce with the string bass, and the drum’s patterns are echoed with a heavier, thudding response to intensify the atmosphere. The background drops out, leaving the drums in conversation, before a plucked bass lays down a simple figure; a mildly creaking electronic buzzing can be detected for an instant.

Although one seamless continuity, the different phases of Silverwater are defined by changes in intensity and instrumentation. A hefty bass is joined by strummed guitar, drifting in an out, and a decidedly snare-y rock drum and electric bass complete the mood. The album’s only guitar solo is heard, hinting at jazz roots, and maybe even more, at Gilmour.

This phase is abandoned in favour of brushstrokes of mild electronic distortion, giving way to a spell of frenetic cymbal bashing. Incidental electronic squeaks or shakes serve as accents, and the rattling timpani reappear, slightly changed in tone, to sound more like masses of tiny drums.

At one point a pulsing tone dominates, but buried deep in the background is a dextrous keyboard extemporisation, tinkling away in true jazz mode. You could easily miss it. That’s part of the way the Necks’ music works. They have the knack of intuitively mixing and counterbalancing a range of musical statements and styles, creating a collage of sound which is never allowed to become fussy or florid.

Without ceremony the dense percussion is lost, the piano’s simple theme is reinstated, and a hi-hat adds definition. A sawed bass note gives way to the piano and cymbal in a quiet space, and the final phrase, a Satie micro-fragment, is played out on a teetering, lonely piano. The perfect way to end.

The Necks’ spellbinding sets at the Vortex in 2008 demonstrated how skilfully Chris Abrahams (piano), Tony Buck (drums) and Lloyd Swanton (bass) can pull a live audience in to their compelling sound. Silverwater is a truly demanding recording venture, which succeeds in fleshing out that ground between the trio’s musical virtuosity and their sonic imagination. They are masters of modulation, in control of all the elements, all the layers and the ways they are combined. Silverwater is testimony to this ability and to their musical ambition. An awesome album.

Produced by The Necks; recorded by Tim Whitten at Electric Avenue, Camperdown, NSW; mixed by Tim Whitten at Studios 301, Alexandra NSW; mastered by Douglas Henderson at micro-moose, Brooklyn, NY. Drawings and graphic design by Asi Föcker.
2009 . ReR Necks9/LC-02677

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1 reply »

  1. very insightful review…it has sent me back to listen to Silverwater again..every Necks gig a treat so looking forward to the Barbican in June.

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