The Necks

Ambient jazz is a perfect description of what this unique Australian band sounds like. The Necks use the repetition ideas of minimalist composers like Steve Reich and Philip Glass as a foundation, starting with simple patterns and ringing changes on them only very gradually. But in The Necks case the resulting music is ultimately looser thanks to the jazz element.

artist:
The Necks

country of origin:
Australia

style(s):
Ambient jazz, minimalism, rock, world beat, cinematic

decades active:
80's - 10's

essential releases:

  • Sex (1989, Fish Of Milk/Private Music)
  • Next (1990, Fish Of Milk)
  • Aquatic (1994, Fish Of Milk/Carpet Bomb)
  • Hanging Gardens (1999, Fish Of Milk)
  • Chemist (2006, Fish Of Milk)
  • Vertigo (2015, Fish of Milk)

Reviewed by Mike G

"Ambient jazz" is a perfect description of what this unique Australian band sounds like. The Necks use the repetition ideas of minimalist composers like Steve Reich and Philip Glass as a foundation, starting with simple patterns and ringing changes on them only very gradually. But in The Necks case the resulting music is ultimately looser thanks to the jazz element, with improvisation of course being that genre's very basis.

These six albums from the band's discography capture the trio in all their atmospheric, spaced-out glory, skillfully walking the line between composition and improvisation.

Sex (1989) is the group's debut, devoted a single hour-long piece of music. It's a strange, bold, ultimately enchanting masterpiece combining simple, repetitive percussion and bass signatures with jazz-style piano improvisation, all in a subdued ambient context. “Just imagine”, wrote Rolling Stone magazine, “an early, spacey, guitarless Pink Floyd after prolonged exposure to Miles Davis’ Kind Of Blue (1959).”

The follow-up album Next (1990) literally continues where its predecessor left off, opening with ten seconds of, um, Sex before launching into six new tracks. Additional instruments this time around include guitar, trumpet and saxophone. “Pele” and “The World At War” retain the ambient grace and spare, hypnotic pulse of the previous album. The more upbeat “Jazz Cancer” and “Nice Policeman, Nasty Policeman” both have a certain rude vigor, while the amusing title track owes obvious inspiration to the David Byrne/Brian Eno album My Life In The Bush Of Ghosts (1981) with sampled voice fragments woven into a funky, third world polyrhythms.

These first two albums are best starting points for newcomers, firmly establishing the trio's subtly eclectic sound and spare, minimal style. If these are to you taste then a number of subsequent releases are equally compelling.

Aquatic (1994) and Hanging Gardens (1999) are blessed with an alluring cosmic undercurrent, with guest Stevie Wishart’s droning barrel organ on Aquatic being particularly effective. Spacemusic? Or space jazz, perhaps? Forget the labels, suffice to say that both albums are exquisite listening and masterful exercises in quiet, controlled power.

The equally superb Chemist (2006) and Vertigo (2015) demonstrate the band's continued vitality and ability to create sublime soundtracks of the mind. Highlights from Chemist include "Abillera" which develops into an expansive one-chord jam not unlike Krautrock icons Neu. The ominous but still beautiful "Fatal" sounds so Twin Peaks you can almost see the Dream Man dancing in front of those deep red curtains while Laura Palmer blankly looks on. Abrahams' piano playing is at its spacey best here, alternately tickling your ears and gently washing all over you. The Vertigo album is a single long piece that's comparable to Sex, but with more peaks and valleys.

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