Australian instrumental trio the Necks—pianist and organist Chris Abrahams, bassist Lloyd Swanton, and drummer Tony Buck—have never totally misfired, but their immutability and volume of output make them liable to spend an album or two spinning in place. Most recently, they returned to form with 2018’s relentless Body, a time bomb that tick-tick-ticks until it detonates unforgettably. Their 21st album, Three doesn’t leave a crater-like Body, but it doesn’t have to. Rather, it proves that after tilling the same patch of creative terrain for their entire career, the Necks can still manage a late-period streak of excellence.
Traditionally, Necks albums run one hour long, with the music either contained in one sprawling track or divided into halves or thirds. True to its title, Three consists of a trio of 20-minute songs. Instead of building to an emotional head, it begins at 100 m.p.h. and gradually lets off the gas.
Whirring to a start with no warning, the enveloping opener “Bloom” first comes across as jarring, with Buck’s kit jawing from the margins like a video game monster. But after a few minutes, it fades to the background and becomes a canvas for slow-motion piano and peals of feedback. Playing at three vastly different speeds, the musicians interlock into a machine.
The middle track, “Lovelock”—dedicated to Damien Lovelock, late frontman of Aussie punk band the Celibate Rifles—is beatless. With each wash of cymbals, toms, and snare, it teases a crescendo that never happens, which ends up slightly predictable and frustrating. But grief isn’t linear, and neither is this.
After hitting two emotional extremes with the first two movements, “Further” coasts down the middle of the road. Mostly just a bluesy bassline, a quintuple rhythm, and some percussive clatter, it sticks the landing, but not in a surprising way. Three may be a minor work in the band’s discography, but 33 years in, it’s simply enchanting to hear the Necks fire up their strange machine and go on a drive.