And so the genre wars continue with countless journalists scrabbling to redefine the terminology used to describe an act as sonically challenging as Crooked Necks just so the band can be filed under a neat category and distributed amongst the ever-more-confused record buying public.
But the truth is you can add whatever prefix you like to this swirling cornucopia of sound and you’ll still be none the closer to uncovering the heart of the band. Epithets such as ‘post black metal’, ‘shoe-gaze’, ‘post rock’ and more have all been applied to this latest release and yet none (and all) of them would seem to apply. The truth is that Crooked Necks are indefinable; as curious as a shape in the distance shrouded in an icy fog and as ambiguous as the memories of a dream that’s just faded – why try to define something that remains as ephemeral and out-of-reach as the end of a rainbow?
‘Alright is exactly what it isn’t’ is a remarkable work of art. Opening with the gentle, tribal surge of ‘this place is violent’, the band combine faceless, wordless shrieks with hypnotic rhythms and ambient soundscapes to quite remarkable effect. It’s not a million miles in conception from the latter day work of Ulver, although that band is anchored by the poetic laments that flow through the music whilst Crooked Necks articulates a wordless horror in the most innocent and serene of settings. It’s an unnerving juxtaposition – far more unsettling than the black-metal, whirlwind of guitars approach simply by being so apparently benign when shorn of vocals. ‘Streets with teeth’ echoes and undulates, the melody always just out of sight, as guitars and keyboards slowly echo around vocals that never quite swim into focus, and yet you’re never safe. Always bubbling away are the raving horrors of the night depicted in the blood curdling screams which are interjected through the half-whispered words of the song. It’s music for those who like to lose themselves inside an album for hours at a time, turning off lights and phone and just engaging with thought and sound in the darkness and as such this is the perfect album. ‘Forgetting to remember to forget’ is a simpler moment – a gentle, lilting melody that feels like its playing on a clockwork radio finally about to run out of power but not quite run down yet, before the tearing, renting screams tear the mood and the track ends up sounding like a collaboration between ‘sing’-era Blur and Darkthrone. There’s little point in trying to imagine such a thing – this is music that goes largely beyond my feeble powers of description and demands that you listen intently instead, devoting time and thought to its all-encompassing charms.
If the first three tracks are unsettling, the next track, ‘Smelling the sounds’, moves in a different world altogether. A fluid hum of distortion announces the song’s arrival before being suborned to a softly pulsing cadence that recalls elements of Aphex Twin, Mogwai and Sonic Youth. This gentle, ambient soundscaping runs over into the equally sun-dappled grandeur of ‘every step seems backwards’, a track that builds slowly over whispered mantras and bleak screams until it reaches the strangely acoustic horrors of ‘hearts and colours’ a track that successfully sounds heavy, even when there’s nary a distorted guitar in site, a trick previously only truly pulled off by Michael Gira’s Angels of light. It’s discordant, uncomfortable. It sets your teeth on edge, and yet it’s also beautiful and unremitting. It’s a confusing emotional combination and your reactions are liable to be equally confused, although it is unlikely that open-minded music fans will be anything less than enthralled form start to finish. ‘Lead clouds’ pulses gently in the darkness, subdued after the shimmering discomfort of ‘hearts and colours’ before the near-instrumental ‘out in the cold’ closes the album on a beautifully contemplative note, hitting a dead stop and leaving the listener in a state of confused anticipation and loss.
Like all great art it is important to get the idea of genre firmly out of your mind. For sure there are convenient reference points littered throughout, but they’re so disparate as to be largely useless. The best thing, with music such as this, is to dim the lights, clear your evening and lose yourself deep inside it. You’ll find your imagination takes you where it wants to go and your interpretation of the wonders on offer is as likely to be right as mine. If you like forward thinking, adventurous, complex and difficult music then this will push your notions of what a band can do in the name of contemporary music and it’s a largely beautiful trip that Crooked Necks take you on.