Dirty Three - Toward The Low Sun
By Jeff Fields In 1996, I had a fierce love for noise/math rock. Around this time I gave Touch and Go Records a good majority of my disposable income for exactly those types of records. Employing an angle, I used my job at the record store where I worked at the time to bug the Touch and Go Records promotions representative for some “in store” promo copies of the newest albums from Don Caballero, June of 44 or Shipping News. My persistence paid off as I managed to score a small cache of the binary beauties. In the stack was a copy of Dirty Three’s 1996 album, Horse Stories, my first introduction to the Australian trio.
Watch the band perform "Last Horse on the Sand" live in 1998.
I initially appreciated Horse Stories for the same reasons I loved other Touch and Go releases. With its weird time signatures and structures, the all-instrumental record had a sometime slowcore energy to offset its share of blast beats. It took me a bit more time to realize the differences were what really moved me. Those unique musical traits are still the reason I’m just as drawn in by their newest effort Toward The Low Sun.
For their last release, 2005’s Cinder, Dirty Three took a step toward more structured songs than previous records. Where, prior albums left more room for dynamics and lots of tempo changes, Toward The Low Sun is a much more focused body of work than most fans are accustomed to. The time Warren Ellis (violin) and Jim White (drums) have spent playing alongside of Nick Cave and Cat Power (respectively) over recent years has only served to hone their ability to craft a better song.
Toward The Low Sun, the group’s first release on the Drag City label, is a great example of a band that is actively maturing. These songs seem to reach “in” more than they are reaching “out” for something. The experimentation on this record is with restraint, concision and structure, not like previous experiments with vocals or using overdubs with many different types of instruments. “Furnace Skies” opens with breakneck speed drums that never relent. The violin, guitar and organ slowly build this track into a somber frenetic boil. This very lively, yet melancholy way to open a record was a perfect way to dispel all expectations. Throughout the record the band use various influences to create their musical landscape. Moments of free jazz, Celtic folk, classical, pop/rock and even blues creep into the mix. The group feels a bit more cinematic in their tone than they did on previous records. For example, “That Was Was” sounds like it could have been plucked from Neil Young’s 1975 Zuma record.
After recording Cinder entirely apart - a first for the band - including vocals (another first) and a seven-year hiatus, most listeners would not have expected such a great return to form. Their newest nine-song collection sees Warren, Mick and Jim returning to the improvisational song sculpting of earlier records. The album’s final track, "You Greet Her Ghost", sounds like someone steeped in a slow sadness. As the song slowly builds, this sadness gives way to an uncertainty and some-type of intense emotion. This intensity relents and wanes, only to slowly build again. Is this anger over a lost love? Could we be feeling the resolve of rejoining your loved one again on a different plane of existence? It could be the flash of a beloved reminiscence. To me, it happens to be all these things. As my eyes well up while listening, I realize all of their songs are my songs with my stories superimposed over their music.
The amount of musical landscape that Dirty Three cover and incorporate into their own voice is staggering. These songs function as emotional maps that are much more open to interpretation than most songs. It is within this ambiguity that the band’s true appeal lies. They give you a tone, not a topic. They dispense a feeling, not a monologue. Their expression through melody and composition can be far more powerful a tool to connect you to their music - if you can open up to it.
Dirty Three - Toward the Low Sun - tracklisting:
01. Furnace Skies
02. Sometimes I Forget You’re Gone
03. Moon On the Land
04. Rising Below
05. The Pier
06. Rain Song
07. That Was Was
08. Ashen Snow
09. You Greet Her Ghost