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No Neck Blues Band - Qvaris

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Artist: No Neck Blues Band

Album: Qvaris

Label: 5 Rue Christine

Review date: Dec. 13, 2005

The Celestial Monochord, a protean instrument dating to 400 B.C. and supposedly invented by Pythagoras, is not so different from the diddley bow, a tuned wire strung between two surfaces, fastened by screws, and played with a slide. Between Pythagoras and black American southerners there exist some pretty clear differences, but a well-tuned wire is enough to make many of those distinctions collapse into the blues.

Correspondence or coincidence? Carl Jung argued the former, suggesting that basic similarities in the minds of humans create a shared predisposition to signify in a certain way, to develop and communicate with certain archetypal (sound) images. A collective unconscious suggested a “psychic system of a collective, universal, and impersonal nature which is identical in all individuals” and contains these “pre-existent forms, the archetypes, which can only become conscious secondarily and which give definite form to certain psychic contents.”

No Neck Blues Band, despite the mystical rhapsodizing and self-mythologizing, have been doing a passable job confusing the boundaries between unconscious articulation and conscious manipulation – feeling it and thinking it – for more than a decade. Sticks and Stones May Break My Bones but Words Will Never Hurt Me, released in 2001 on John Fahey’s Revenant imprint, was full of transcendent rags, a collage of rickety rhythms and sinewy banjo riffs that was as erudite as it was ecstatic. Since then, the band has been issuing missives from its Harlem headquarters at a frantic rate. Most of these slabs have fallen thoroughly flat – awkward, self-indulgent commentaries on a holy scripture that only served to dilute its grandeur.

Qvaris is a welcome exception, its 11 dirges wading through the muck of heaven and hell, ebullient boogies and gloomy elegies abound. The vignettes are generally static: murky passages of squealing strings, steadily agglomerating percussive racket, cluttered synth tones wailing over shakers and rattles. NNCK is more intent on evocation than exploration, content to obsessively probe the corners of a particular collective imagination until each speck on the wall is transformed into an icon.

This highly focused abstraction is tempered by loose foot-stomping, but still becomes isolating at points: on “Qvaris theme (loplop hearing qvariS),” it’s difficult not to hear frivolousness above headiness as the whistling tones and synth stabs chase the song’s tale. Other times, the entanglement of disembodied tones and tin can phantasms unexpectedly culminate in truly otherworldly requiems.

These snapshots of longer improvisations manage to indicate a larger framework but, graciously (and unlike many recent NNCK releases), fail most of the time to include it, leaving the listener with a distinct sense of voyeurism. You are invited to the ritual, but cannot participate. You are encouraged to understand, but will not comprehend the language being spoken. Immerse yourself in a music that rejects your very ability to do so. Witness performance as ritual, god speaking through a vessel.

Why say so? For one, this is music that serves a function or, at least, adroitly sutures traditional music to the corpse of musique concrete. Secondly, among other mystical glut on the band’s website, a wonderful Mormon pitch, though heavier on the arcane nonsense: “One aspect of this Intonomancy has been the adherence to continually naming unformed yet recognizable consistencies, thus willing their return to futurity and witnessing their separation as instant-memory. Coupled with encryption with an eye toward transferal, this has here become Qvaris, and has been served by many hands. Given its passage, it must now again find it’s [sic] home in the air, from where it can assume its character, and make its final impression in the airless vacuum of minds.”

All hail primordial images! One half expects the band to stop amidst the manic shouts (amens?) on the “LugnagalL’s” wonderfully feral folk jam, in favor of a sobering speech on the image of nature as a divinely inspired hieroglyph, on hieroglyphs as the code of the original language God conveyed to Adam, on the epicenter of universality and its eventual collapse...

Whether play-acting, church-building, or just mystical refuse, it’s a disarming come-on, and for the most part the smoke obscures the mirrors. Amidst the rot of self-import and grand delusions, NNCK’s broadcasting at times achieves the image of transcendence, if not the thing itself.

By Alexander Provan

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