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Key Tracks: "The Pier"
For reasons unknown, violin has not become an accepted instrument in the rock idiom for its 60 years of existence. All of the elements are there for it to prosper in this context: it can sound mean, angry, psychotic when pushed, but can also be clean and gentle owing to its classical pedigree. But in the end, its Mozart connotations will sadly keep it from joining hands with yer average wankers. Dirty Three is one of the brave few who attempt to bridge the gap, giving it as much prominence as the guitar on their latest release Toward the Low Sun to inject some Bach into their rock.
With a name like Dirty Three, they sure sound mannered. Nine tracks of carefully calculated guitar and violin improvisation, all standing somewhere in no man's land between jams and songs. The group lies through its teeth as they do their best to sound convincingly spontaneous, even while the pre-planned nature of these songs is rather obvious, not least because they all follow the same formula. Let the drums lay down some kind of pattern, with or without a beat, and let the guitar/violin/bass/piano walk all over it indiscriminately, giving different instruments the spotlight at different times to break up the monotony. Rinse, lather, repeat.
This makes it difficult to discern much sensitivity in this intellectual-rock skeleton the group builds. Like it or not, an instrumental group's primary weakness is their inability to communicate on a purely familial level with listeners, and this is generally compensated for through more apparent hooks and structure. But Dirty Three like to play in "freakout mode" the whole time, forming mammoth, complex, but ultimately soulless geometric shapes in the image of rock 'n' roll that give no hint as to their purpose or direction.
Take the second track, "Sometimes I Forget You've Gone." Judging by the slower, more keyboard-driven feel when compared with the distortion of the first track, it clearly wants to show a more introspective side. A worthy enough goal, but why do the piano and guitar choose to free-associate, scattering bunches of wandering chords everywhere that are no more than the sum of their parts? Also, it's nice that the drummer has a large kit, but that's no excuse for him to play like he is having a seizure, betraying taste by insisting on whacking every rototom.
"The Pier" shows the strongest signs of stepping away from this boredom, coming the closest to having an actual riff and ever-so-slightly swinging in its beat. The violin is slowly bowed for expressive purposes, finally liberating the music from its workmanlike feel, and the soloing begins to make some impact on the heart instead of the brain. But unfortunately, buried in the dead center of the album, its warmth fails to make an impression between all these icy slabs of jazz-rock.
In short, Dirty Three may have three smarty-pants, classically trained members, but that will be their only asset until they start writing songs like a group. There's nothing wrong with "freedom solos" as long as they're in context, but record a 42 minute album full of them and suddenly there's not much difference between you and the high school jam band down the street. Beethoven might approve were he here to hear this, but something tells me that given the choice, he'd go for King Crimson instead.
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