No-Neck Blues Band
Sound @ One
panning five years of macrocosmic ‘jams’ ostensibly celebrating/documenting Orthodox Easters past (1999-2003), the No-Neck Blues Band’s (a.k.a. NNCK) double CD, Parallel Easters, presents the quintessence of the Harlem collective. That’s not to say that Parallel Easters ‘clears’ anything ‘up’: there’s still the reluctance to grant interviews, to allow for stories, to be photographed even (yet a current Google search finds a healthy smattering of interesting photos). But this is nothing new; anyone barely familiar with NNCK knows that their idiosyncrasies and utterly incomplete bios precede their music, which is seemingly—and fortunately—a story all its own. To those that have attempted to grapple with the essential concept(s) of NNCK, the realization that this is a collective gravid with potential angles is a stale sack of mushroom buttons: there’s their fierce individualism, their staunch opposition to commodification, their embrace of communal living, and their stagecraft which is a perplexing blend of dada/fluxist device and neo-primitive musical ritualism as folky as it is nihilistic. The irony is tantalizingly vicious: the more you learn about NNCK, the less you know; just because a bend in the river is rendered clear, doesn’t necessarily mean that the entirety of the run isn’t wholly obfuscating. Steering clear of the quasi-eastern mystical psychobabble is easy; forget the imagery; open your ears.
And that’s what NNCK does best. It’s surprising, especially when their al fresco productions are put into orbit with access to their veritable panoply of instrumentation. You would think that this would allow for self-indulgence. But there’s something communicated inaudibly amongst the members that guards against this, demanding attention, and allowing each pluck, pick, plunk, strike, wisp or wail time to come together, and fall apart into the nothingness that it was conjured from initially. To this listener, this is NNCK’s greatest achievement. Each sound, no matter how complex, no matter how rudimentary, is handled cogently, lovingly, as an old bachelor who talks the green into his potted plants, thinking that their heartiness is effected by his causal converse. Recorders are allowed to sizzle and shriek; hand-drums are caressed and cracked; electronics intrude at measured monotonous and clumsy clips; guitars are ruminatively rustled and wrestled; cymbals and shakers are jostled, splashed and crashed; voices surround, infect, and render musical narrative meaningless. The individual anecdote empowered by pop music’s toothless lyricism is nowhere, no place; like Thomas Moore, NNCK know that utopia as a place of tangibility is at once impossible and possible—no place erected to possibility’s some place with the aid of a focused ideation. NNCK’s musical ideas are formed slowly, deliberately, proving the ideal anodyne to the innocuousness of current ‘alternative’ music. Parallel Easters showcases a lot of these musical ideas; each is as different and alike as the next. So, what does this say? That NNCK’s music is a pale manifestation of the transcendent form that it attempts to ape? That each piece is a one-trick pony already stretched past the bounds of musical sense? This listener thinks these critiques not only lazy and ineffectual, but also smacking of the sort of Cartesian/Humean impotency so reviled for its simplicity.
To isolate the pieces that comprise Parallel Easters is to render them incoherent; they are sensible only when placed inside of a larger framework that allows for the application of experience derived from the conceptual apparatus of our world, the notion of which is as novel—or as dusty—as transcendental metaphysics. It’s not that we take in information, or objectify it; objects present themselves to us, their information is given as a gift; our mind’s conceptual wiring is the anxious unwrapper, ultimately laying bare the object’s intention or objective—a thunder word as lengthy as it is ephemeral. Hearing NNCK is one thing; listening to NNCK inside its larger framework is another. This framework is a vast construction, one that encapsulates—and embraces—unfamiliar bedfellows: the patois/pathos of the whole Anthology of American Folk Music, the confrontational violence of early Black Flag, the ritual significance of ethnic music, the elemental spaceyness of Van Morrison’s Astral Weeks. Listening to NNCK is all of these things, no matter how disparate, no matter how similar—an antinomy Parallel Easters decidedly draws on. But, like NNCK themselves, trust only your ears to make this call.