Dirty Three: "Toward The Low Sun" Review
Toward The Low Sun may be the best Dirty Three album in over a decade. While I think that both 2005’s Cinder and 2003’s She Has No Strings Apollo are undeservedly maligned, there is no denying that Low Sun does a better job of recapturing the magic that the Dirty Three found in their earlier records. They don’t compromise here, either. The band has been accused of losing sight of melody for the complexity of their sonic adventurousness. Low Sun is by no means pared down. Without “dumbing down” their sound, however, the band crafts structures that complement the melodies without obscuring them.
Well . . . except for record opener “Furnace Skies.” The album’s first track is a blast of guitar noise, irregular beats, and general chaos. It’s as if, at the start, the band is trying to get the mess all out of their systems before moving on. The rest of Low Sun is full of the Dirty Three’s elegant instrumental folk/jazz oeuvre. “Sometimes I Forget You’re Gone” strips down an aberrant piano melody and accompanies it with Jim White’s drumming, which sounds as if he’s trying to hit every drum and cymbal simultaneously. Warren Ellis’s violin doesn’t take its customary prominent position within the band’s sound until lovely folk ballad “Moon on the Land,” which is also enhanced by mandolin and more restrained drumming from White.
Ellis takes the lead on the record’s two best tracks, driving both “Rising Below” and “Rain Song” with some of his most evocative violin melodies since Whatever You Love, You Are. The former focuses mainly on the dynamic between guitarist Mick Turner and Ellis’s multi-tracked strings. Between the two of them, Turner and Ellis produce a vibrant melancholy that, in line with the band’s aesthetic, climaxes in an orgasm of instrumentation. “Rain Song” mainly consists of Ellis’s disconsolate strings and picking, which wander across the span of the funereal tune before ending in a whimper.
Low Sun ends impressively, with “That Was, Was,” “Ashen Snow,” and “You Greet Her Ghost” finishing the backend of the record with impassioned sadness, particularly with the addition of a forlorn flute on “Ashen Snow.” The closing is reminiscent of some of the Dirty Three’s finest late-’90s/early-2000s work, concentrating on violin-led melodies evocative of a wide array of emotional responses. In fact, while every emotion from extreme pain to extreme joy is explored in the space of the instrumental tracks, the one response that never comes to mind is boredom. The Dirty Three have always been a thrill to listen to, and on Toward the Low Sun, the thrill never comes at the expense of complexity. If the band’s fire was simmering low throughout most of the 2000s, it is certainly roaring again.
Toward the Low Sun will be available on 2/28 via Drag City Records