The Dirty Three
Toward The Low Sun
The Dirty Three sound as fresh and vital as ever on their first album in seven years, writes AARON CURRAN.
Toward the Low Sun came from difficult beginnings but you're unlikely to guess this from hearing it. It's a formidable album, taut and restless, brimming with confidence, ideas and ability. Still, according to Warren Ellis, there was a strong chance it might never have existed.
Ellis recently told me that for a long time after their last album, 2005's Cinder, the band were unable to conjure anything in the studio that could spark their interests and match past glories, to the point where the Dirty Three came close to breaking up. “Nothing had come out of any new sessions that we'd done,” he said, “and certainly I was a little spooked by that. You know it felt like maybe this was the end of the group. Before this new record, it felt like that.” But with Toward The Low Sun, things took a brighter turn and now, with a much-anticipated tour of Australia beginning next month, there's not a snowball's chance in hell that Ellis, Turner and White will soon be winding things down. If this record is any indication, you’ll miss the forthcoming shows at your peril.
Toward The Low Sun is a work that successfully melds the strongest elements of their past with persuasive experimentation that's done with subtlety, economy and reach. It contains some of the noisiest, most insistent music the Dirty Three have yet created, however it also takes time to unfold and reveal itself. I'm still hearing brave new things 20 listens in; there are occasional moments when the knotted, overdubbed intricacy of some arrangements confounds certainty as to whether these thrilling sounds are being made by a violin or a guitar. Unlike some Dirty Three releases, it'd be difficult to have this one softly playing as gentle background music, yet just when you're resigned to a brash and bumpy ride you'll be caught off-guard by shameless melodies and soaring musicianship that coalesce in moments of overwhelming optimism.
Importantly there's just the three of them playing here, no guest stars this time. Opening track 'Furnace Skies' is a brash statement of intent, with burbling Terry Riley-like keyboards fighting it out against unfettered drumming and swathes of violin and guitar over an insistent loop of needling noise that is as unforgiving as wildfire in a drought. The tension it creates is immediately tempered by the more meditative 'Sometimes I Forget You're Gone'. Restrained piano and guitar gently pushes against less-dignified bursts of percussion; Jim White's sputtering patter taps and spits, falling drunkenly forward to the song's finish. Third track 'Moon on the Land' is hearty, spiced and warm and, like many of the best Dirty Three songs, it seems to offer the listener a measure of hope and respite.
“It contains some of the noisiest, most insistent music the Dirty Three have yet created.”
In 'Rising Below' a chugging rhythm saws upwards from one violin to propel the overdubbed soloing of another, supported by the wiry mesh of Mick Turner's playing. 'That Was Was' features overdriven, distorted violin breaks that at points reminds me of Lou Reed's unhinged guitar solo from 'I Heard Her Call My Name', though after more mulled wine and less methedrine. 'Ashen Snow' is a much more delicate delight; piano and mellotron meet in a moody combination of Ravel and late ’60s psych-folk that builds memorably to a rousing chorus, then drops off suddenly into silence. It's difficult not to hit the repeat button as soon as it stops.
'You Greet Her Ghost' concludes things with a whisper. It sounds like it was recorded live and features the trio back where they first began, creating compelling sounds from only three raw elements - a violin, a guitar and drums – yet sounding fresh and vital, like the last 20 years have never happened.