Low drones, high-pitched buzzes fading in and out, seemingly meandering piano and percussions – Vertigo seems to try its best to represent a bodily affection, a perceptual disruption that denies the sufferer respite even after having closed the eyes. The Necks perhaps incarnate quite well the concept of the ‘organic’, but it’s been quite a long while since they last turned it into something more physical. Many of this album’s sounds are quite sickly, in the sense that they feel like something directly out of falling blood pressure, of bowels constricting, of the head pulsating with pain. Its moments of brightness, of sweetness, are underlined by this kind of uncomfortable experience, like the reflective trance someone hit by a generalized malaise reactively enters in order to prevent a complete breakdown, to maintain a sense, however fragile, of self-control. Those on the outside cannot see a thing, but, even if it’s only for a moment, the entirety of the world is sickness.
There’s a measure of horror to this realization, one we (or at least, I) tend to block in those moments when the body is at the verge, but The Necks bring it back in quite the John Carpenter way, as sinister artificial phantom, an absence that demands to be attended to, a void that knows there’s a tiny part of the consciousness struggling to remain in control that thinks it would just be better to give up, to jump into the nothingness, and maybe, just maybe, it would survive to fight another day, because hey, it’s just your body, right? When everything in the surroundings is revolting against you, is there really any hope of winning? The skin keeps crawling, your eyes keep darting around, and the sense that you’re still you starts to crack, aimless piano note by aimless piano note. The grumble, the noise, wills something different.
Still, there’s nothing else there, and hence the artificiality of the phantom, a conspiracy of yourself against yourself, the sense of moving without actually expending any energy, your senses turning, your mind trying to calmly focus something, anything, just to keep afloat of the sickness fervently bubbling below. Usually, when it achieves some clarity, recovers some sense of belonging, the assault’s not really over yet, and even in stability there’s a measure of corruption, something that lingers. As Vertigo seems to be about to quiet down in the last 10 minutes or so, what’s really happening is that high tones and noises that were jagged and irrupting become extended, drone-like, a new stability that does not feel exactly like before the sickness hit. The peace achieved through so much inner hardship feels absolute because the affliction is still there, albeit controlled, subjected, no longer an absence but a definite, if strange, presence. It’s a part of you now, but that implies a different kind of horror.
Within the long discography of The Necks, Vertigo stands as a sort of inverted exploration of ambient: what happens when all of its elements turn against you? What sort of inner ambience does the body break when such a thing takes place? Various darkjazz ensembles have thoroughly, perhaps even systematically, delved into such questions, and this album wouldn’t sound too out of place at all in the brilliant company of From the Stairwell, Egor, or the recent Piano Nights, by The Kilimanjaro Darkjazz Ensemble, The Mt. Fuji Doomjazz Corporation, and Bohren & der Club of Gore, respectively. Perhaps earlier Necks stuff like Silverwater could also fit the bill, but I believe that Vertigo is much more fully in line with the kinds of questions raised by darkjazz, at least in its direct appeal to inner, hazy disturbances that do not discriminate between the mind and body. If that sounds like something you’d enjoy, then do not miss Vertigo – it’s fascinating, for perturbingly right reasons. (David Murrieta)