The Necks: Mosquito/See Through (2005)
The members of Australian trio The Necks may have individually mixed pedigrees, having functioned in a variety of contexts from pop to hardcore to more conventional jazz. But when pianist Chris Abrahams, bassist Lloyd Swanton, and drummer Tony Buck get together as The Necks, it's a different beast entirely. Like them or not, they score high marks for originality. The music on Mosquito/See Through is certainly unlike anything else you're apt to hear, ranging from delicate ambience to darker stasis.
Of the two hour-long pieces that make up this two-disc set, "Mosquito" is clearly the more approachable. Revolving, for the most part, around a simple repeated bass ostinato, eighth-note cymbal pattern and percussion overlay that is paradoxically cluttered yet open, Abrahams is the most actively explorative, layering fragile free lines over a gentle wash of chords. The dynamics of the piece are so subtle that they creep up almost without warning, with a stronger bottom end developing about halfway through. And although the music is not about soloing in any conventional sense, Abrahams' improvisations gently dominates the first thirty minutes of the piece, while Buck's activity increases in the second half, providing additional contrast and interest. But at the end of the day, "Mosquito" is more about a vibe, a hypnotic trance-like ambience, than it is about traditional concepts like rhythm and harmony. Still, there is gentle movement on both fronts; an ebb and flow that make for a curiously engaging listen.
"See Through," on the other hand, is almost completely devoid of any such conventional conceits. There is precedence in some of Brian Eno's ambient worksspecifically the extended pieces Thursday Afternoon and Neroli. But whereas Eno typically aims to create something that become part of one's overall aural landscape, it's hard to ignore "See Through." With a darker, more extreme intention, the piece utilizes disconcerting gaps of silence or near-silencesometimes lasting upwards of four minutesto break up the more static texture. Abrahams, again, creates a gentle layer of piano, but this time the mood is more ominous. Over a continuous cymbal roll that ultimately transforms into a seemingly endless drum roll kept low enough in the mix so as not to dominate, Swanton alternates between deeply resonant notes and higher-end arco playing that, despite its rhythmic insistence, fails to give the piece any real sense of movementalthough, paradoxically, there is an undeniable feeling of urgency.
If "Mosquito" is successful in creating a congenial, relaxed ambience, the other piece's sense of purpose seems to be in enervating the listener. Perhaps the audio equivalent of director David Lynch's Eraserhead, a film which demonstrated the power of cinema even as it completely unnerved its audience, The Necks may be all about the incredible power and evocative potential of music. And while that does not always translate into a pleasurable experience, it does make for a unique one.
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Track Listing: CD1: Mosquito. CD2: See Through.
Personnel: Chris Abrahams (piano); Lloyd Swanton (double bass); Tony Buck (drums)