More than any of their previous 17 albums, The Neck’s Vertigo rings a few changes, as they eschew the collected intensity of their usual stripped-down, slow-burn, all acoustic approach for a less grounded cosmogony of sound, incorporating electr(on)ic elements. It’s their most richly detailed recording to date, and one of the more remarkable. A mid-length release by their standards, its single cut, “Vertigo”, runs to just under 45 minutes
“Vertigo” is founded on an introductory bowed contrabass drone accompanied by rippling piano, intermittent and muffled clusters of percussion, and resonant but isolated gong hits. But this foundation is shallow. Just three minutes in, and shimmering organ starts to track the drone, while Tony Buck’s cloudburst percussion clusters are joined by piano preparations and chimes.
Chris Abrahams’ keyboards are multi-tracked throughout the album, his piano here a lyrical lapping against an a brittle dapple of electronics, trickling through the mix in a higher register while various other elements in the aggregated sound might be electronic or purely acoustic in origin. Both Swanton and Buck play texturally throughout, creating a crepuscular and edgily portentous mood.
Thirteen minutes in the trio reset, reprising the intro but focusing now on held tones to create a shimmering effect. The more spacious mix foregrounds distinctive piano harp strikes that stand out in stark, earthy relief, while woozy electric bass lines yaw under a luminous auricular trompe l’oeil canopy of electric key chords. After 21:30 those suspended chords are all there is, in a quiet interlude where The Necks sound rather like Tape at their warmest and most lustrous.
After that the piece becomes gradually more intense, with Abrahams still on electric keyboards, Swanton’s bass languidly pulsing, and Buck’s cymbals ticking over, The Necks collectively slipping into brooding somnolence.
A sudden constriction and darkening of mood at 32:00, produces more abrasive and abstract textures—feedback stresses and tectonic grinding. But at 38:00 there’s another transition, a churchy Hammond tone now dominant in a layered, fluctuant drone. The organ’s wavering creates an oscillatory pulse, and at 41:45 loose-knit rhythmic percussives impart a sense of gathering momentum and incipient sway, but the piece ends here with a mystifyingly cursory fade out.
At times The Necks’ sound on this album comes surprisingly close to post-Ra progressive neo-psych (cf. anything featuring Ståle Storløkken). But, happily, the trio has retained its inimitable close focus and collective identity. If they took a gamble by tweaking the secret formula behind past successes, then that gamble paid off nicely.
Vertigo will be another essential purchase for Necks aficionados. It may also appeal to anyone who’s previously tuned in and liked what they heard, but not had the patience to stick around.
Chris Abrahams keyboards; Lloyd Swanton bass; Tony Buck drums, percussion.
Vertigo is out in Europe on ReR Megacorp, and will be released in North America on Northern Spy Records. Street date for North America is 30 October 2015. Buy direct from ReR Megacorp or direct from Northern Spy.