I don't know about the rest of you guys, but sometimes when the strain and over-stimulation of our 21st-century world gets me down, the thought of spiriting off to some cave dwelling in the far and distant past seems downright appealing. True, such an archaic lifestyle would be plagued with little inconveniences like feral beasts and the desperate, daily struggle for food and warmth—but c'mon! Doesn't the thought of never setting foot in a DMV or job interview seem worth the occasional wild boar hunt?
Well, perhaps I could find sympathizers in New York's freak menagerie, the No-Neck Blues Band. For well over a decade this group of esoteric improvisers have been following the beat of their own drum, their prolific recorded artifacts providing the only windows into the strange pocket dimension they've managed to create for themselves. And while comparisons to outsider noise collectives like Jackie-O Motherfucker or Sunburned Hand of the Man would be understandable, the group's stilted rhythms and viscous art-mashes suggest more that they've been sipping the same primordial stew as primitivists of the past like Red Krayola or Cro-Magnon.
The cavernous live sprawl of Qvaris, their latest disc and first for Olympia's 5RC label, catches the No-Necks at one of their finest, most intuitive hours. Tracks like "The Caterpillar Heart" pull the listener into a formless whirlwind of bending, electronic chirps, and slippery guitar drippings. Elsewhere, such as on the loping "Live your Myth in Grease," Qvaris picks up considerable momentum—briefly hijacking a Morricone-infused crime-jazz shuffle, only to leave it burnt out and disassembled further down the road.
At this point, I guess it probably goes without saying that No-Neck's blues ain't no Buddy Guy. In fact, blues it's anything but—unless you're of the opinion that alien troglodytes get the blues the same as the rest of us. The No-Necks seem to be giving us a wink and pulling off a genre bait-and-switch much like the decidedly un-punk tinker-toy skronk of their fellow bill mates, the Punks. Are they really winking at us though? NNCK (as the No-Necks somehow manage to abbreviate their name) have always weaved an impenetrable wave of obscurity and jargon around their work. From the many daunting pages of H.P. Lovecraft quotes on their website to the quasi-spiritual undercurrent of their song titles, there's a suggestion that some overarching manifesto guides the band in their endeavors—but damned if I know what it is. This somewhat sloppy pretension could work against NNCK if their music didn't feel so honest. Qvaris is filled with idealistic simplicity and wide-eyed wonder, like the newness of Neanderthals picking up instruments for the first time. That makes it hard to judge the No-Neck Blues Band for the cave of faux-seriousness they choose to call home.