It is surprising how The Necks have come only after almost 35 years of career to give a title like “Travel” to one of their albums, given that the journey is perhaps one of the most obvious, but certainly, the most fitting metaphors to describe the music of the Australian trio. We don’t know what’s the reasons behind the band’s choice at this point in time, but if we try to follow the suggestion that the word ‘travel’ brings with it, we like to think of it as a declaration of vitality: the first album was released many years ago now, but the music, the head and the heart of the three musicians are still in perpetual motion, describing a constantly changing path.

The successor of “Three” record goes back to the structure already experimented with “Unfold”, consisting of four tracks spanned on double vinyl, once again renouncing the single track, which is becoming increasingly rare in their studio works. A configuration that perhaps reflects the band’s desire to delve into different expressive registers within the single album, rather than, as in the past, dissecting a single musical theme extremely.
And indeed, the tracks offer (as always when The Necks’ albums contain more than one track) atmospheres and musical themes that are quite distinct from each other, while not renouncing the classic minimalist progression that distinguishes the trio’s work.

“Travel” begins with “Signal“, a track that immediately highlights the backbone formed by Lloyd Swanton‘s double bass pattern and Tony Buck‘s brushes. Around this skeletal structure moves, with the usual grace and measure, the piano of Chris Abrahams to which are added, after a few minutes, brushstrokes of the organ.
As usual, the sound cells from which the piece is formed move, changing and splitting in a very slow, but inexorable crescendo. Try clinging, with your ears and mind, to the double bass lines, trying to take note of the small but decisive changes Swanton makes to it. At a certain point, you will realize that rationality is bound to succumb: the perception of detail vanishes and you find yourself immersed in the sound. You realize how slowly, around the initial sonic skeleton, a substance has formed in which you find yourself immersed: the rhythm seems to speed up, an upbeat double bass overdub join an increasingly frenetic bass line, while the organ, from sporadic and airy ornamentation, becomes continuous and concrete accompaniment. 

“Forming” changes register, moving to a more abstract and rarefied sound level, at least at the beginning. This time the piece’s focus is provided by the piano, with Abrahams playing scattered notes that seem to seek a melodic relationship between them. Buck with brushes and timpani in the background and Swanton with seemingly haphazard and insistent flushes of double bass build the sonic nebula that hovers around the piano’s explorations. The title is perfect for describing the dynamics of the track and the direction in which it moves: from the rarefied and primordial chaos of the incipit, we move on to a decidedly more compact sound matter, formed around the piano arpeggios. The soft drumming at the beginning of the song has become a blazing and menacing sound wave, formed by almost tribal drums and assorted percussions, innervated by an increasingly frenzied and almost out-of-control double bass.

It is then the turn of “Imprinting“, which plunges us into a mysterious and alienating atmosphere: against an elusive backdrop created by organ and double bass played with the bow, a complex and almost limp rhythm of drums and assorted percussion is grafted on, and a cryptic sequence of unconnected and dissonant piano notes makes its way, drawing a “non-melody” that is difficult to grasp. As is the trademark of the Necks, these combinations, which seem jarring and free-form, gradually take shape and coherence, both from a rhythmic point of view, thanks to the mounting synergy between double bass and drumming, and from that of the guiding theme, which, despite its atypicality and elusiveness, assumes its own accomplished sense, or rather, we would say the only possible sense. In fact, this is one of the trio’s main skills, as well as its inextinguishable driving force: that of making, when facing the infinite number of choices that improvisation presents to the musicians at any given moment, the ‘right’ one, capable of following that flow that takes the music in a direction of creativity (in the literal sense “the use of skill and imagination to produce something new or to produce art”) and compositional coherence. 

“Imprinting” is followed by the last track “Bloodstream”, which re-proposes to the alternation between a song characterized by a more rhythmic layout and a more immaterial and freeform one, that had characterized the initial sequence composed by “Signal” and “Forming”. And just like the latter, the final track is a slow and inexorable progression from a nebulous and impalpable sound material to a denser and more compact one. The similarities, however, are only ‘methodological’ and end here. The start of ‘Bloodstream’ is surprising as it features a solemn organ with a strong ecclesiastical flavor contrasting with a decidedly jazzy piano. Slowly, first double bass drones emerge from the background, and then an enveloping sound fog is created by Buck’s snare drum. As the organ continues its liturgical melody, the piano becomes increasingly tingling and free, while double bass and drumming gradually increase in intensity and volume. The climax is characterized by explosive bursts of drumming similar to the electric guitar rushes in noise rock. After this peak, the music takes us with a slow descent to the conclusion of a track that’s quintessentially “Necks-y”, with its dichotomy between static and dynamic, between stillness and noise.

“Travel” is an album of almost 80 minutes of music that introduces us, we are not afraid to say, to one of the most important bands of the contemporary music scene, still today after almost 35 years of recording career. A trio of musicians who are always the same (in spirit and in their free approach to music) but always different in their incredible ability to wander through the infinite improvisational multiverses they face and to accompany us listeners towards ever new, fascinating, and all-encompassing worlds. 

So we can only say to Chris, Lloyd, and Tony, chapeau, but above all thank you.