Sunday, December 25, 2011

Recommendation: The Necks - Hanging Gardens (1999), Drive By (2003), Townsville (2007)

A Bi-Polar Review
Allow me to preface this text by saying that I am a fan of The Necks and love their music. I have most of their albums and listen to them regularly, particularly late at night in a dim lighted room, focusing solely on the music, doing nothing else.
In fact, I recommend listening to their entire discography, not just these three albums. I also particularly love Chemist, Aether and Athenaeum, Homebush, Quay & Raab.
The reasons why I chose the three albums featured here are that they were the first three The Necks albums I got and listened to and that they all feature a single one hour (or near it) composition.

However, I often think about the nature of their music and how easy it is to critique it; how it would be hard for me to explain their music to someone who has never heard of them and never heard anything like their music before. This made me think how one could do both things; that is dissect their music in a negative and positive light.

And so, what follows is a dual view of their music.

The not-so-favourable approach:
Is this considered good quality music? Is this music?
So, if I were to release a bunch of repetitive nonsensical musical babbling that lasts for an hour and goes nowhere, would I be lauded as well as a groundbreaking or avant-garde musician? Could I simply come up with a pattern and some chords to accompany it, play it for a lengthy period without much change, and be hailed as a prodigy, or simply gather a vast and admiring following?

The Necks' music is in a way sort of like being in a tourist bus driving through monotonous landscape. One gets to see a foreign land, but not much of its different locations and people; you occasionally change the scenery a little but you don't get to walk off the bus and buy some memorabilia; there is no exploration of the country, no going out for treks or getting off the beaten tracks. It is an ongoing bore.

The bottom line is that there is not much variation in the music, a monotone ambiance reigns supreme.
In the end what one gets is a boring and unchanging repetitive pattern going on for an hour (or less in some albums). Why would I pay to listen to that?

The favourable approach:
When I wish to get away from it all, when I need to be transported far and away from my current troubles, when I want a special yet subtle musical journey, I turn to The Necks. Their music is hypnotic, otherworldly, magical. Though it may sound effortless, it takes skill to forge these mysterious and lengthy textures and ambiances.

While complaints about lack variation and exploration are correct, one needs to understand that the music here follows different rules and behaves in a vastly different way than in other places. Variation is introduced very slowly, gradually adding elements or abandoning them, shifting ever so slightly throughout the hour long piece. There are minute details one needs to follow that change throughout the ride; little intricacies that create the magic that is The Necks' music. To my ears, their creativity lies exactly in that - in creating delicate and subtle movements within minimalistic hypnotic and beautiful patterns.

All of this is achieved by their skilled musicianship. Tony Buck's percussion work is exquisite, full of little embellishments on top of their propulsive yet delicate nature. The keyboards and piano by Chris Abrahams are the petals on the flower that is The Necks' music, giving it its color.
The bass played by Lloyd Swanton is the pillar, the foundation of the music, giving it its solid hold in the ground.

The bottom line is that I find their music to be gorgeous and mesmerizing; music that captures my attention every time I play it. It is a journey not suitable for everyone. Indeed, I don't expect everyone to love their music, but for those that do, it offers a unique and memorable experience; one that makes us come back to it again and again.

The whole of Hanging Gardens divided into six youtube videos

Drive By


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