What Is It About the Necks?

I wish I could write something intelligent and perceptive about the Necks.

The Necks at The Corner Hotel, Melbourne, Australia

The Necks at The Corner Hotel, Melbourne, Australia

But the band continues to escape me.

So maybe some facts to start off with.  The Necks are a Sydney (Australia) based trio, as one of their album titles details, “piano bass drums.”

I first heard about them from my friend Matt, who produced their first two albums back in 1989/90.  Their first album was called Sex.  That ought to grab your attention.  Their second album was called Next.  Can’t fault the logic.

Most of the sixteen albums they have released since then comprise a single track that is roughly an hour long.  Sometimes there are as many as six or seven tracks, but that’s a rarity.  Mostly you have a simple figure that starts an improvisation that wanders, grows, asserts itself, disappears into the background for a while.  Roughly sixty minutes later, the band brings it home, just as quietly as they’ve explored it all along.

The Necks are usually described as an “experimental jazz trio.”  And that’s right, but it’s not a description that would make me listen to them.  I had asked Matt a rhetorical question during one of our exchanges about music: “How many ambient Brian Eno albums does one need?”  (The answer in my case is “more than I suspected, based on my iTunes catalog.”)

In return he suggested the Necks.  And now I’ve become an evangelist: I want all my friends to enjoy this music.  But nothing I say ever seems right.  I’ve been listening to one of their live recordings tonight, Aethenaeum, Homebush, Quay & Raab.  A little while ago I could have described Homebush as interesting indie-film soundtrack music.  Indeed, the Necks’ music has often featured in films, and I’ll stand by the soundtrack characterization if you’ll agree not to think poorly of the band for that reason.  But at the moment it sounds like aggressive ceremonial music.  It’s not background music at all.

Today I was writing to a friend who’s turned me on to some wonderful music over the years, and I wanted to return the favor.  The Necks, I said, are like Brian Eno on jazz, Philip Glass on heroin.  Like the “film music” classification, or the “experimental jazz” tag, these characterizations are a disservice.  They’re wrong.  But so far, they’re the best I’ve come up with.  But they’re wrong.

And that’s part of what I like about the Necks.  I can’t capture them.  They take me wherever they want to go, every time, on every album.  I want to translate their music into words, describe it so that someone else who’s never heard of them will give it a try.  But I can’t do it.  And somehow that seems not only appropriate, but wonderful: an art that resists translation into another medium, that can’t be even approximated, but only experienced.

So the only thing left is to say, listen.  Here’s their first album, as posted to YouTube.  If you like Sex, you’ll want to find out what happens Next.

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