Release Date: Feb 28, 2012
Record label: Drag City
Genre(s): Pop/Rock, Alternative/Indie Rock, Indie Rock, Experimental Rock, Instrumental Rock
When Mumford & Sons’ Ted Dwane proclaimed their new album to be “doom folk”, it was tempting to imagine Australia’s Dirty Three roaring into their moonshine at the prospect. For if any band has ever rendered elegiac folk ferocious, it’s this grizzled and glorious trio, now on their eighth album – released five years and one serious bout of writers’ block after their last. Not that you can tell – opener ‘Furnace Skies’ explores far darker, more frenetic sounds than ever before, and there’s a tense sadness in the splashy drums.
Toward the Low Sun is a stunning tease, an album that both drenches you with the virtuoso, double- and tripled-tracked magnificence of Warren Ellis’s violin playing and places his melodies amongst a series of differing, varyingly abstract band compositions. Opening with “Furnace Skies,” drummer Jim White rolls away a continuous free jazz solo underneath gritty guitars, somehow completely dwarfing everything, while Ellis’ violin occasionally peaks out a delicate melody that is crushed by Mick Turner’s guitar stabs. It’s part frustration, part chase with moments where everything seems to, accidentally, come together in passing moments that strike with more emotional effect than a compilation of soulful tearjerkers.
Simply put, Dirty Three are pros’ pros. That’s why violinist Warren Ellis, guitarist Mick Turner, and drummer Jim White have been sidemen to the likes of Nick Cave, PJ Harvey, Cat Power, and Bonnie “Prince” Billy, helping those iconic artists shape their musical identities and legacies. Yet whether it’s the result of some chemical reaction between their violin, guitar, and drums, or just an uncanny sum-greater-than-parts rapport, they always seem to save their best for when they work together as Dirty Three.
It's 20 years since instrumental post-rock trio Dirty Three formed in Melbourne. Between them, violinist Warren Ellis, guitarist Mick Turner and drummer Jim White have played with some of rock's most revered acts, from Nick Cave to PJ Harvey, from Cat Power to Will Oldham; but working together without a songwriter's vision to realise, they tend towards a more sprawling, improvisational mode. This eighth album is certainly that – the fiery opener Furnace Skies approaches free-jazz territory in its spiral of flickering drum-rolls and circular bass rumbles, with Ellis and Turner painting in fleeting half-riffs and brief suggestions of melodies on top.
When Dirty Three play live, Warren Ellis always takes the time to tell the audience what their songs are ‘about’. It’s testament to the musicianship of the Dirty Three that this doesn’t sound like an oxymoron. Rarely are three musicians so in sync as to be so expressive without using words; arguably peerless as improvisers of instrumental intensity and beauty.
Toward the Low Sun ends a seven-year silence for Australia's Dirty Three. During that time, violinist Warren Ellis has been part of the Bad Seeds, Nick Cave's film scoring partner, and an integral part of Grinderman. Drummer Jim White has played with Chan Marshall, Bonny "Prince" Billy, and Nina Nastasia. Guitarist Mick Turner released a solo album and established himself as a painter.
Even fans of Australia's the Dirty Three might admit that their sound has a limiting constancy about it. The trio's restless instrumental rock has pitted Jim White's free beats against Mick Turner's guitar against Warren Ellis's libertarian violin since 1992. The D3's last effort, 2005's Cinder, was uncharacteristically mild-mannered, prompting fears that they might have run out of things to say.
Those unfamiliar with the work of the Australian violin/guitar/drum trio could be forgiven for misguided perceptions of what such a gathering might generate. Then again, on their first studio album since 2005's Cinder, the band seems so intent on newly exploring their capabilities that they just might strike a chord with almost any fan of instrumental music. .
Seven years is long enough for people to forget about you, but not quite long enough to cast your reunion as a victorious, back-from-the-dead surprise. Then again, Dirty Three didn't so much dramatically break up as simply run out of roads to travel. From 1993 to 2005, the band had pushed its minimal violin/guitar/drum set-up to epic extremes, from desert-storming ragers (1996's Horse Stories) to exquisitely melancholic meditations (1998's Ocean Songs) to Godspeed-sized pomp-rock spectacle (2000's Whatever You Love, You Are).
It's been seven years since the last proper Dirty Three album, and that's a lot of time for this inventive trio to come up with some new ideas. And, perhaps because of all that time, a funny thing happens at the start of Toward the Low Sun. All the ideas come out, all the sounds, all at once. Opener "Furnace Skies" is an onslaught of sound, a clustered up mix of circular bass riffs, skronking organ, and Jim White doing his best to clang and rattle on the drums without ever quite establishing a beat.
When Warren Ellis of Bad Seeds fame does his own thing, away from Nick Cave, you roughly know what you’ll get. A hectic piece of musical talent. Dirty Three construct an album that consists of roughly three styles: big and exciting prog-rock, guitar based epics, softer string numbers led by Ellis’s violin and the odd Mogwai-esque alt-rock song without words.
Dirty ThreeToward the Low Sun[Drag City; 2012]By Andrew Bailey; March 1, 2012Purchase at: Insound (Vinyl) | Amazon (MP3 & CD) | iTunes | MOGTweetLook, I like post-rock as much as the next guy. I enjoy the jazz-like emotional meltdowns, the freedom of structure, and the intricate layers that often make it so that each new listen becomes its own unique experience. I like the build-ups and erruptions that are so woven into the fabric of the genre, the way instruments can behave independently one second and then, in a snap, collide with all the others to form a unified expression.
A genre rife with hollow oversaturation, instrumental rock runs the risk of sounding either stunningly frank or wantonly pretentious. On Toward The Low Sun, Aussie post-rockers Dirty Three have yet again achieved a beautiful post-rock sound both ingenuously carefree and wisely tempered, an impressive feat this far into their careers. Painting with their usual diverse palette of folk harmonies and jazz grooves, the Melbourne trio continue to show that they’re not afraid to add a little noise to their canvas.
David Berkman The pianist David Berkman’s “Self-Portrait” (Red Piano Records), released just before the new year, is a solo-piano record working through some of the most-often-played jazz repertory (“Embraceable You,” “But Not for Me,” “It Could Happen to You” and, the big one, “Body and Soul”), some of the less-played jazz repertory (Joe Henderson’s “Serenity,” Alec Wilder’s “Moon and Sand”) and a few short originals that he calls “Sketches. ” It’s quiet, very melodic and introverted, changing tempo nearly all the time, leaning on subtleties of shifting left-hand harmonies. These days records like this may be more worth your time than ever.
Australian instrumental trio rediscovers their form on album eight. Spencer Grady 2012 By getting back to basics and running on their instincts it would seem as if Australia’s finest threesome have rediscovered just what it is that makes them great. After their last full-length, 2005’s Cinder, saw a more structured approach in the studio with slightly disappointing results this, their eighth album, sees a welcome return to the lengthier improvised explorations that marked their earliest fiery recordings.
Given that Toward The Low Sun is the Dirty Three's first record in seven years, and that it marks a return to the studio after several fallow years for composition and recording, it's been viewed in certain quarters as some sort of comeback. The problem with that reading is that it suggests that either they've been through a prolonged period of no activity, or that they've spent some time being shadows of their former musical selves. In actual fact, as violinist/frontman-of-sorts Warren Ellis has pointed out in interviews, the Australian trio never went away.
Dirty Three haven't brought us a new album in seven years, their members being kept busy with collaborations and guest spots. Warren Ellis composed several soundtracks with Nick Cave and also joined Cave's Grinderman project. Drummer Jim White worked with songstresses Nina Nastasia and P.J. Harvey, and Mick Turner has been busy with his solo work and the Tren Brothers.