Sometimes I Forget You’ve Gone

The cover of Dirty Three’s new record, Toward the Low Sun, is exactly what it should be.  It is menacing, as the snarling red dragon is pierced by the princess’s sword at the last moment.  At the same time it is whimsical; maybe the final page of a children’s book that is meant to excite and bring a smile.  The album that the cover represents is similarly dynamic.  Toward the Low Sun, the eighth album from violinist Warren Ellis, guitarist Mick Turner, and drummer Jim White, walks an ever-shifting line between carefully crafted instrumental folk-rock and cacophonous, mind-bending jam sessions.  The latter element of the album is particularly excellent.  It seems that five years after their last album, the subdued Dirty Three, the trio was itching to make something unruly.

The first track, “Furnace Skies”, is just that.  Mick Turner churns out a spiraling, foreboding guitar riff as Jim White sets a blistering pace on drums.  Drawing on elements of free jazz, the musicians bash their sounds together, creating fleeting moments of beauty and dissonance that are impossible to tease out from one another.  It’s an ominous beginning; and while the intensity of “Furnace Skies” is never fully returned to, it does portend the more visceral approach that underlies the rest of the album.

Dirty Three have always taken a uniquely complex approach to their compositions and, while it is not always warranted, songs like “Sometimes I Forget You’ve Gone” remind us how successful it can be.  It is four minutes of contradicting sound.  A meandering piano ballad is accompanied by White’s aggressive, incessant drum patterns.  Without lyrics, the musicians are able to create a story that is more emotionally charged and effectively conveyed than the majority of the ones that are sung.  From the first few bars I immediately imagine an older man, serenely sitting in his living room, seemingly content in his solitude.  In his mind, however, there is a barrage of emotion – questions about his life, longing for people he lost.  Toward the Low Sun has a number of stories like this to tell and each one is worth listening to.

As the record progresses, it settles into its groove.  “Rising Below” begins with a sullen melody composed of interwoven guitar and violin lines but soon builds into a distorted argument between the two instruments.   “The Pier” and “Rain Song” are gorgeous slow-burners.  Both feel like they are born from a feeling of loss.  Ellis’s guitar weeps and Turner’s guitar riffs are suddenly subdued.  More so than on Dirty Three, these pensive moments are affecting.  It’s because they are distinct from the other elements of the record.  They stand as only one part of a dynamic whole.  The nostalgia of “Rain Song” on its own is moving but the effect is heightened when followed by the emotional release of “That Was Was”.  What an oddity nowadays, an album that is actually pieced together carefully.

I can only see this album getting better with time.  It is three exceptionally talented musicians unleashing everything they have – musical virtuosity, emotional depth, and nuanced songwriting.  If anyone has a farm and a bottle of whiskey I could borrow, we could put this record on and I would probably never leave.

Stream the album here (NPR).

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1 Comment

  1. Jay

     /  September 3, 2013

    Great album indeed..

    Reply

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