(Fish of Milk)
The triumph of album number 17 is that the Necks can still turn one’s head with surprise. This studio creation presents pianist Chris Abrahams, bassist Lloyd Swanton and drummer Tony Buck at their most reflective. The serenity-defining opening with monochord and bells leads to gorgeous piano lines, and the 68-minute piece also soon declares itself to be their most shrewdly structured studio opus, with this ambience continuing in essence despite considerable shifts in texture and feel.
Even Buck’s mallet-work on the drums – about as close as the Necks come to a “solo” – remains pensive, and is tied to the earlier piano work by a reiteration of the bells and chimes. Completing a circle the piano takes over from the drums: echoes of its previous motifs now moistened with wistfulness and riding on a haze of shimmering cymbals.
Hinging the piece’s middle is a pool of relative stasis that twinkles like city lights seen from afar. But even when they launch into a darker foreboding – and few do foreboding like the Necks! – it is restrained: perhaps a darker cousin of serenity that we might call desolation. The echoes and reiterations continue, and, at the risk of spoiling the ending, serenity wins the night.
Their finest? I’ve given up that game. Certainly their most beautiful. No doubt they’ll surprise us with something quite different at the Opera House on March 3.