Three (Fish Of Milk)
If you’ve not been assiduous in your collecting of Necks albums in recent years – and given there have been 15 studio ones, four live ones and two soundtracks since 1989, you’d be forgiven for missing the odd one or two – you might have missed the fact that the relative narrowness of inputs – one piano, one upright bass, one drumkit - gave way some time back to the occasional use of electronics for this improvisational trio whose work has always been a balancing act between freedom and restraints, space filled and space left empty.
What also was given away was the fixed idea that each album would be one piece, generally of around 60 minutes, begun without planning and developed in real time, without guidelines beyond the freshness of ideas, and without a fixed leader/initiator.
Three consists of three separate tracks, of about 20 minutes, and their contrasting natures gives a sense of the ever satisfying but ever evolving nature of the work of percussionist Tony Buck, bassist Lloyd Swanton and keyboardist Chris Abrahams.
The opening piece, Bloom, spirals out from dispersed electronic drum patterns and almost built-in bass that agitate like an irresistible, almost barrelling-down-the-track-at-you force. But it doesn’t accelerate; it simply drives without impediment; not remorselessly but close enough to project an unblinking eye of machinery.
The piano intersects with this almost from another sphere, another life altogether, as if someone has plugged rival files into the one port. Its pattern is simple, its tempo measured, its emotions controlled. The flourishes or embellishments late in the 21 minutes of its run time, come from resonant metallic percussion, adding a kind of early-industrial overlay to a late industrial-meets-rural circumstance.
In combination, Bloom feels much more like something from electronica pioneers Orbital, or recent collaborators with The Necks, Underworld. The sense of an urban atmosphere, hectic and crowded in on, with an inner core or separated space of escape is pure ambient electronica.
Come to track two, Lovelock, however, and that internal peace/external energy shifts dramatically. Space is paramount here, sometimes alarmingly so, as the emptiness without end suggested becoming almost claustrophobic.
Buck’s cymbal washes and rippling toms are the unlikely overarching structure, Swanton providing the mottled skin of stretched and vibrating notes on which Abrahams’ piano walks in short bursts of lambent inquiry. The atmosphere is chilled at the tips, sustaining unease at every turn.
After this, Further, which closes the set, feels quite warm and certainly welcoming by comparison. This time the bass is the centre around which percussion dances and touches earth only lightly most of the time and even when it lands a touch heavier it is more like a spring forward.
Swanton arrives with certainty and doesn’t deviate for 21 minutes, leaving it to the piano and organ to colour in the spaces around him. In doing so, Abrahams enjoys the kind of conversation with him that suggests a couple where no one has a need to assert control but also no one feels any pressure to be something other than a responder.
It is astonishing in many ways that these three men have so much still to say, to each other and to us, after more than 30 years. Astonishing, and satisfying.
The Necks play:
February 29th - CPAC Studio, Cairns
March 7 - Music by the Sea, Brisbane