The things I like about this album start with the art itself; guitarist Mick Turner's beautiful artwork perfectly captures his music's mood and sound. In fact, it's the best visual summary I can give of Dirty Three's newest album, Toward the Low Sun.
Primarily, the album seeks to obtain this extremely casual, laid-back atmosphere, as if just a collection of rough sketches. Dirty Three take this loose, free-form, jazzy ambience and blend it extremely well with quite beautiful and folk-like melodies. Warren Ellis's violin in particular definitely adds a nostalgic, old-country touch to the music that borders on the sublime. It reminds a lot of Genesis's Selling England by the Pound with its pastoral yearnings, possibly even hinting at some of Beethoven's Symphony No. 6: Pastorale. By way of specifics, the violin swells on "Moon on the Land" are tear-jerking with their rusticity, and the restrained, understated drumming on "Rising Below" effects a sense of artful primitiveness really well, contrasting effectively with the rest of the music swelling to huge proportions. The song structures do tend more towards the standard post-rock form, but they still feel much looser than what you'd normally expect. It feels like listening to songs that have been cleaned up after one or two jam sessions, and that's actually totally fine with me. It's an intriguing and fresh sound, and difficult to do well.
The only issue I can find is that, especially on "Sometimes I Forget You've Gone" and "Furnace Skies", the arrangements can become so loose and unstructured that they're almost unlistenable. They go beyond any tolerance for free jazz and become an unpalatable mess. The instruments will seem to play completely without regard for one another, and especially when Jim White's drumming is this ridiculously busy, it can be literally painful. Thankfully (and perplexingly), this is only a noticeable issue for the first two tracks--all of the other pieces achieve this sound without being reduced to sloppy messes.
"That Was Was" (I feel like there should be a comma there) stands out amongst the bunch as being a relatively heavy rocker, the lead violin starting out respectfully reserved and slowly moving into unabashedly heavy territory. The solo line is incredibly moving, and though it's pretty simple in structure, it's definitely the most memorable song on the album. "Ashen Snow" is another highlight for it's noticeably softer and mellower composition, the gentle piano and brushed drums sounding (appropriately) how falling snow looks.
Toward the Low Sun has definitely my new favourite album from this fine trio (sorry, Ocean Songs). It's like throwing King Crimson and Don Caballero in a blender, the band contrasting its improvisational, loose aspects with pieces that nonetheless have a definite structure. And despite my misgivings with the first two tracks, the rest of the album is just so good that I'd be remiss not to recommend it. Any fan of post-rock or generally talented musicians should give this album a listen.
8.5 / 10
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