It’s been seven years since the last record of Australian demigods Dirty Three. The members have of curse been pretty busy in that time, lending their various skills to other acts, Bonnie Prince Billy, Nick Cave, Cat Power and a plethora of left of centre touchstones. As musicians their stock is always high, and rightly so. No one quite makes music like the Dirty Three.
With ‘Furnace Skies’, the album starts with the kind of distorted loop that Warren Ellis is now used to serving up with Grinderman and the Bad Seeds, and the immediate thought it that that will be the prevailing idiom throughout. This ain’t the case, for when Jim White’s frenetic drum scats come in, you know you’re in a Dirty Three record. White’s style is as singular as ever, the crazy barely contained, capricious energy almost kept in check by sticking a drum kit in front of him. Over this heavy loop and mad-jazz stick work, Mick Turner’s guitar makes its spidery way and Ellis’s more familiar vio-mauda-lin murmurs.
‘Sometimes I Forget You’ve Gone’ features a piano, chords mournfully plucked out, like random thoughts, Jim White’s drumming pacing the floorboards. ‘The Pier’ rocks with a nearly irregular ebb and flow, ‘Rain Song’ shows us that Ellis has picked up a thing or two from playing with Cave over the years. One can hear his voice rumbling over the top, if you squint your ears. White is at his most restrained, merely playing a beat, keeping strict time on the ride cymbal, a regular tapity-tap of drops against a window, while Ellis constructs a conversation over by the fireplace. ‘Ashen Snow’s heartfelt refrain tugs at you, while allowing the song to swell, and crash against the rocks.
While they can still indulge the melancholic, the “duende” Cave famously ascribed to them, on ‘Toward The Low Sun’ they also swell with a vigour and rare sunniness, as if revelling in the fact that these three disparate men are finally back in front of the microphones again, and simply enjoying that fact.
Dirty Three are and always have been an elemental band: chords gather like clouds, beats are released like torrential rain. Other times they can be as calming as the sucking tide, or crackle like a fire. Album and song titles have always reflected the scapes around them, sea, land and of course, sound. They always play as if they’re not entirely in control, led by the vagaries of nature, trying to encapsulate in sound, on the precipice of falling, but never actually letting go. At this, they are legendary, and while they let their muse dance a merry jig in the gloaming, the never lose sight of it. Just beautiful work.