The dense knot of looping bass and stuttering drums that opens Dirty Three’s Toward The Low Sun is as surprising as it is refreshing. Since the mid-90s the trio, led by violinist Warren Ellis, have carved themselves a niche, or rather run themselves into a rut, crafting low key instrumentals which skirt the boundaries of post-rock, folk and jazz.
On the striking opening sequence of this, their ninth studio album, Dirty Three inject a much needed dose of vigour to the occasionally hackneyed balladry of their previous work, creating intricate, steadily morphing soundscapes which emphasise their inclinations towards free jazz.
As the record progresses however, Dirty Three soon betray a less than solid commitment to this evolution of their, by now firmly established, sound. As early as the third track, the drab ‘Moon On The Land’, Ellis’ violin, suitably saturated with the world weary melancholy so long associated with the band, resumes its place centre stage, with guitar and drums playing little more than a supporting role. Beautiful and emotionally candid though their music can be, Dirty Three’s unfailing sincerity would be admirable were it not for the knowledge that the trio have been working to this same formula for so many years. Indeed, in refusing to stray from their comfort zone, as they do throughout the remainder of Toward The Low Sun, the band give off an acute, and regrettable, sense of cynicism; it is, after all, safer to regurgitate the tried and tested than it is to involve oneself in the risky business of innovation.
There is a subtle distinction between beauty in simplicity and banality in music making and too often this record falls just to the wrong side of this divide, with its lack of depth masquerading as a profound modesty. Whilst Toward The Low Sun will undoubtedly satisfy anyone looking for a collection of unassuming, folk inflected instrumentals, on returning to the rich and utterly beguiling textures of opener ‘Furnace Skies’ one is left with a distinct yearning for what might have been.