Styles: post-rock, melancholy instrumental, dirge
Others: GY!BE, Hangedup, Rachel's, Mogwai, June of 44
It's been ten years since Dirty Three released their self-titled Touch & Go debut (and second proper record). Their popularity has waxed and waned in the past decade, generally with the fortunes of their instrumental post-rock genre itself. The band toured with Godspeed You! Black Emperor at the height of the latter band's popularity, and while their pretty, melancholy violin dirges have rarely approached Godspeed's structural sophistication, fans of the combo realize that the band's name belies their aesthetic. I don't know exactly what "shambolic" means, but I'm pretty sure it describes what happens when you put Warren Ellis's violin, Mick Turner's guitar, and Jim White's drums together. The three have performed as part fellow Aussie Nick Cave's band, but on their own the Dirty Three capture something entirely their own.
Seven proper albums, a movie soundtrack, and a few odd EPs into their career, fans wouldn't be amiss to wonder where the band has left to head. The band's first few albums, including 1996's Horse Stories, considered by many the band's best record, were full of long, sweltering compositions that worked themselves up to powerful, discordant frenzies of noise. Ocean Songs found the band at their most pastoral, and Whatever You Love, You Are saw experimentation with fuller, multi-tracked, melodic violin-centered compositions. Cinder is similar to the band's most recent effort, She Has No Strings Apollo, in that it splits the difference between the band's languid side and their louder material. There are a few differences, however, that make Cinder worth a listen even for those who feel they've had their fill of the 3.
The first difference fans will notice when picking up Cinder is the song lengths. After putting together several albums with less than ten songs (usually upwards of six or seven minutes apiece), Cinder's 19-song tracklist is a striking departure for the band. Perhaps they've decided that they don't need nine minutes to make the same statements they can make in three; there's much less repetition on Cinder than on any of the band's other records. But "Ever Since" and "Amy" are reminiscent of the band's softer side, driven by pretty guitar lines and shuffled along by Jim White's trademark brushed drums... nice enough, but, really, just more of the same. The record's title track, with its repetitive string scraping, is the band at their least engaging — it nearly puts the listener to sleep, until you get a load of the next song, "Doris." For the first time (to my knowledge), Dirty Three actually rock, cottoning to a distorted guitar riff that carries a concise little three and a half minute stomper. Elsewhere, "Great Waves" is co-written and sung by Cat Power's Chan Marshall, and her voice seems such a natural complement to Ellis's violin that one wonders that she hasn't been the band all along.
No more really need be said about Cinders. It's Dirty Three as they've always been, testing their limits, but still producing some of the prettiest and most artful music around. And for the unfamiliar, Cinders isn't a bad place to start.
1. Ever Since
2. She Passed Through
4. Sad Sexy
8. The Zither Player
9. It Happened
11. Dream Evie
12. Too Soon, Too Late
13. This Night
14. Rain On
18. Last Dance
19. In Fall