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The Necks - Chemist

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Artist: The Necks

Album: Chemist

Label: ReR Megacorp

Review date: Sep. 24, 2006

It can’t be chance that has led the Necks to change their working methods after a decade and a half of remarkable consistency. Chris Abrahams (keyboards), Lloyd Swanton basses) and Tony Buck (percussion) have taken the conventional piano about as far as it can go in a very particular direction. The Australian ensemble’s MO. is to pick a phrase and mine it, mutating it so slowly that you barely notice the changes. Usually you get one hour-long track per album. Their music owes a bit to jazz, a bit to minimalist composition, but most of the excitement comes from the palpable chemistry generated by these three players.

But on Chemist they’ve added two new variables to the equation. One is abbreviation – the album comprises three 20-minute tracks. The other is a new instrument – Buck now plays electric guitar as well as drums. The former factor cuts both ways; when the Necks pick the right musical zone, you want it to go on forever. When they don’t, you’ll want it to end sooner than 20 minutes, never mind an hour.

“”Fatal” is uncommonly rockish for the Necks, with shards of electric guitar splintering upon impact against a rather stolid groove. Despite an uncommonly generous amount of change, the piece never really engages the listener. “Buoyant” works better, with layers of keyboards and a crisp groove that conveys a sense of motion even as you hear the same electric piano phrase for the hundredth time.

The episodic “Abillera” is a departure even by the standards of the rest of the record. First Swanton, then Abrahams work unaccompanied, the former worrying at a line that wouldn’t be out of place on an early-'70s Miles Davis record, the latter exploring textures like those that Steve Reich favored when he first recorded for ECM. When Buck comes in and they play as an ensemble, his overdubbed guitar figures find a hidden link between Reich and the Feelies. That’s hardly ground you’d expect the Necks to cover, which only makes the piece more intriguing. Still, one wonders if their willingness to mess with the formula signals growth or indicates that the Necks are at an impasse.

By Bill Meyer

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