Somnambule - Writing About Music

The Necks ~ The Boys

As most other reviews of this release have noted, the big deal is that it comprises seven short tracks. The shock horror of this will need some explanation to those unfamiliar with Australian improvising trio The Necks: all their previous releases comprise one or at most two lengthy tracks. The shortest piece on The Boys clocks in at a mere three minutes and fifteen seconds (although three tracks do stretch to a shade over ten minutes). That’s still, relatively speaking, a blink of the eye for the group. Which inevitably prompts the question as to whether the cumulative power of The Necks’ music is diluted by its relative brevity on this outing. The short answer is no. The slightly longer answer is that the effect is similar to a looking at a seven-sided object rather than examining seven distinct objects. The other variation from the group’s standard practice is that this music was composed as a soundtrack for an Australian film of the same name. The Necks make a sympathetic choice for the role as their music is remarkably efficient at sounding a motif without making it too obtrusive.

Second track He Led Them Into The World is pellucid and meditative in all the right ways, its piano figures modulating and echoing like a mantra. The feeling is of musical parts moving snugly together and apart, of sailing out towards the ocean's rim as the sun sets - the piano supplying the glimmering light and the movement of the waves. In (only) 10 minutes it manages to communicate something of the endlessness of the sea. Whether this has any bearing on the film is unknown, but the album cover states that “this soundtrack album ... consists of more than just the music that appeared in the film. It is an album in its own right, drawing from all works that The Necks composed for the project.” Which gives licence for interpretation unmoored from the exigencies of the film’s narrative. Third track Headlights begins like a drowsy wasp circling round and round your head – there’s that same hint of whirring menace. As the minutes pass the realization gradually dawns that this is it – an imperfect circle is being traversed endlessly. Then somehow the circle becomes a line - as it does if you walk its circumference for long enough. There’s something magical about this transformation, this subtle but absolute shapeshifting.

When pianist Chris Abrahams conjures a motif at the very beginning of a Necks track, it's a strange feeling to realise that there’s every possibility he will pick and patch and stroke and prod at this pattern for the duration of the piece, however long that takes. Fight, flight or surrender are the most obvious responses – the third of them is certainly the most fruitful for the listener. For any Necks fans worried about the brevity of these tracks and who fear imminent stylistic change, please breathe easier - this album was in fact recorded between 1997 and 1998.
Colin Buttimer
August 2004
Published by the BBC