The Necks: inspiring or monotonous? This is the most commonly asked question with regard to their music. Unlike traditional jazz bands, this Australian trio opts for single songs that span the entire radius of their discs. The question, though, of whether they're inspirational or not is insignificant, because they've been regarded as the most sought-after jazz musicians in all of Australia. Between the three of them, which includes Chris Abrahams (keyboard/piano); Tony Buck (drums); and Lloyd Swanton (bass), they have contributed to over 150 albums. That's quite an impressive number considering how reasonably unknown they are; or perhaps that's only here in the United States.
Nonetheless, I have a feeling that the critical acclaim of their last few albums has slowly started to diminish this oversight. They're latest offering, which is a double-disc set called Mosquito / See Through, should fit in nicely with the rest of their catalog and continue to gather new supporters. They will simultaneously keep those existing fans happy since their basic concept has not been too heavily deviated upon. In the same fashion as the rest of their work, these two songs are slightly over an hour long in duration. And like a Robert Ryman painting, The Necks present them in very minimal fashion.
First in line, "Mosquito" is a hypnotic song that moves along at a leisurely pace until slight variations are allowed to flourish from within. Reflective piano is the highlight of this song, but there are gentle pulses of bass, a sometimes non-existent ride cymbal, and hanging wood chimes to accompany it. The inexorable subtlety of Abraham's piano is enough to lull you into a mindless state of sedation. Only during Talk Talk's best moments have I heard the piano sound so warm and charming.
"See Through" is the next long piece. Unlike its predecessor, it has oddly been broken up into several segments. During certain moments there is at least a one-minute gap of complete silence before we are reintroduced to the song again. That aside, it's unquestionably the more interesting of the two songs. Where "Mosquito" focuses on lighter situations, "See Through" is a much darker and complex affair. The sound of jazz is almost completely concealed, and in its place we are left with stimulating atmosphere. The piano is still the focus here, and the drums, once again, fill in the empty space.
Heaven only knows where this album will take you if you allow it to do so. My only suggestion is that it not be behind the wheel of a car, for fear that you'll fall asleep and hit a road sign. I imagine that if you ever have the chance to take a train ride where you can view the countryside, Mosquito / See Through would be the ideal soundtrack. It has a way of blending in with its surroundings while never becoming overwhelming. And though most people might label this music as pretentious and self-indulgent, I would argue that it's some of the most stirring minimal jazz I've heard.