The last album by The Necks, the excellent Silverwater, wasn’t at all what the casual observer would have expected from The Necks. In terms of its structure, and more so in terms of the choice of instrumentation, it was an unusual record, and not what one would have expected from the famously slow-building piano/bass/drums trio of Chris Abrahams, Lloyd Swanton and Tony Buck. There was an organ. A guitar. Some subtle electronics. In the light of this, I wasn’t expecting a solo album by their pianist Chris Abrahams, his second for the Room40 label, to be an album of solo piano. But I certainly wasn’t expecting this.
It is a remarkably diverse album from someone who, in The Necks, can luxuriate in simple, repeated phrases. It confidently switches from style to style, from method to method, from mood to mood repeatedly, from track to track and within individual tracks; amongst passages of minimalist piano composition, there is dense electronic drone, complex musique concrete and again, unexpected instrumentation. The first thing you hear on the album isn’t a piano, but a welcoming Hammond organ introduction – this is joined by a buzz of guitar feedback, a synth drone, and what sounds like a hand-held fan delicately brushing against strings. This sets the tone or rather tones, or even some of the tones for what is to follow.
Another organ, a near-ruined church organ this time, emerges a few tracks later on “The Same Time”, building from doleful rumination to sections of gloriously uplifting melody. The (presumably dangerous) mixture of dark pulsing electrical hum and watery field recordings that carries the later “Birds And Wasps”, recalls BJ Nilsen’s fine recent work for Touch. Amongst all this comes the Bernard Parmegiani-inspired “Twig Blown”, a frenetic and fascinating few minutes of musique concrete. It sprinkles haunting fragments of piano amongst an arrangement of recordings and sliced up percussion, the intricacy of which belies the track’s apparent long gestation period.
With its serious-yet-somehow-also-playful juxtaposition of sounds, “Twig Blown” is the album in microcosm (perhaps the only album I’ve heard this year which manages to pull off the same trick would be Marina Rosenfeld’s excellent <Plastic Materials for the same label). Abrahams may be challenging expectations, but in Play Scar he has produced a record which will certainly exceed them.