Tony Buck: Unearth

- Tony Buck, let’s get it out of the way, is the drummer for that cultish, minimal hypno-jazz trio, The Necks. Buck, like the band’s other members Chris Abrahams and Lloyd Swanton has a significant back-catalogue of his own and a CV that includes collaborations with many of the biggest names -like Brian Eno and John Zorn- in experimental music. It took me a bit by surprise to realise that Unearth is his first solo outing in fifteen years.

His recent releases have been largely confined to that main project of his and this solo record seems less like a diversion, a chance to get away from endless, undulating, improvised soundscapes and, in a sense, more like extra Necks, under a different name. That isn’t to accuse it of being derivative … what this actually sounds like is a hotshot of The Necks oeuvre: an almost liquid blast of all the elements the band ever choose to use, crammed into a tense and steamy, one hour exposition.

From an almost inaudible opening, the percussion quickly comes rolling, skittering, plucking, shaking, striking, even … bubbling(?) at you. It’s playful for a bit, but won’t stay that way. The improvised cacophony reminds me quite a lot of the later, Gamelan heavy work of Tom Waits, particularly the tense, moody and uncertain atmosphere of his spoken-word interludes like What’s He Building In There? or Shore Leave, only without Tom of course, or indeed any vocals, beyond the occasional, muffled sample in Mandarin and English, which I think is some airport announcement, perhaps heard by a passenger suffering a psychotic break.

One of Buck’s aims with the record was, apparently, to explore a duality in the experience of time, playing off tiny, intricate rhythmic structures, against long, all-encompassing drones. You’ll hear more of his instrumental arsenal: synthesisers, guitars and field recordings coming into play as he develops this. It is indeed oddly dual: always moving, but in the face of the giant walls of sound, not going anywhere. Again it feels quite a lot like a nervous breakdown: all that incessant movement that never gets anywhere.

Having said that, there is a kind of ‘narrative’ arc and it’s one of nearly always increasing tension. In this single, fifty minute cut, there is also one exception, about thirty minutes in, for a guitar suite that’s really surprisingly, transportingly beautiful, before a protracted, nerve-fraying drum-roll carries you back into the endless crescendo, like a final descent into madness. I don’t know what Tony Buck thinks he’s Unearth-ed here, but it inescapably put me in mind of some ill-fated Lovecraftian hero, digging up something he shouldn’t, something which will eventually, completely destroy his mind.

The recent Necks releases I’ve heard have, as I said, employed similar palettes, but nothing like the intensity on display here. Unearth reminds me quite a bit of some of Chris Abrahams solo releases, though again, he hasn’t ever gone all-in, with quite the same fervour. The vanishing softness that climbs ever onward into obliterating noise is also, actually, quite a post-rock thing to do, although for uncompromising experimental rigour, you could only really compare this to something like God Speed You! Black Emperor. Tony Buck’s own profile is such that Unearth is unlikely to achieve the kind of notoriety as the godheads of post-rock would, or a new record by The Necks. If you do happen across this monolithic, unnerving edifice you’ll find the culmination of fifteen years of Tony Buck’s thinking on his craft has uncovered something and it's something enormous.

- Chris Cobcroft.

Album Details

Album Title: Unearth
Artist: Tony Buck
Record Label: (Room40)