Ten-year veterans of the experimental/improvisational scene, the members of Harlem’s No-Neck Blues Band (NNCK) have outdone themselves with scary beauty on Qvaris. Recorded at the band’s living/performance space, the Hint House, the album is wild and untamed and reflects these dark times we are currently living in: the soundtrack to hurricanes, mudslides, ridiculous war and bad governments.
Opener “The Doon” shakes in like a spectre in an abandoned shack, all rattling bones and imminent terror. You want shivers down your spine and the little hairs on the back of your neck to stand at attention? Crank this one up loud in a darkened room when you’re on your own, close your eyes, and listen to the groove shuffle in like a chain gang of phantoms to excavate your soul – or maybe just scare the hot shit out of you.
This record continues as pure voodoo, something evil bubbling in a big black pot on “Live Your Myth i Grease.” All the witch doctors are dancing as something primal and visceral is happening. It grips you by the ribcage and squeezes the breath outta you fast; there’s something asphyxiating about this cacophonous, claustrophobic record. What the hell kind of instruments are they using? The Sun Ra wig-out at the end would have made the original space cowboy proud.
Like a short circuit in the fun house, the strings on “The Black Pope” scritch-scratch-cat-scratch, and the music feels like the damp cold as it gets into your bones and chills you from the inside out. It’s stark and jagged and ragged. Buzzing like a swarm of lazy cicadas, “Qvaris Theme 1” flits about like a music box that’s been stamped on and left to run out of tunes – hummingbirds and white noise, little wings beating oh so quickly.
“Boreal Gluts,” the seventh song, is surf rock in hell with molten lava waves and Dick Dale on a bad trip, but it gets your foot tapping. It’s the album’s first proper “song”: It seems to have a structure in the traditional sense, anchored by the deranged surf bass line. You can hear the compatibility of the collective musicians in this sinister groove as they drop out one by one and then build back up to a looser groove.
The atonal wailings on “Dark Equus” might make it the scariest track on the record. It sounds like an execution. Thumping of gunfire, weird squawks, ice cubes in my heart, firing squad, bird noises, disembodied human voices like so many species having sex together. Just see where the groove goes and who will step up to shape its convoluted path to the end. No-Neck Blues Band is pushing boundaries on this record. I’m just not sure what frontier they’re actually on – and that’s a beautiful thing isn’t it?