Dirty Three: She Has No Strings Apollo (Touch & Go)

There is absolutely no better music to listen to while sleeping or otherwise winding down than Dirty Three, and for that reason alone, a new album will always be welcomed and appreciated.

Few bands of the past decade have so constantly topped themselves as the Australian band Dirty Three has. Their first two CDs, 1994’s Sad & Dangerous and 1995’s self-titled album, found a band with promise (and the single best rock violinist of all time) trying to find their sound. With 1996’s Horse Stories, they found it; at the time, nothing matched Horse Stories in terms of heart-wrenching neoclassical indie rock. Nothing did match it, either, until Dirty Three took up the task themselves with their 1998 release, Ocean Songs, which was over an hour of slow-burn Warren Ellis-played solo violin set against the punctuation of Jim White’s drums and Mick Turner’s casual guitar strumming. Ocean Songs was absolute perfection at the time of its release. The only thing that keeps Ocean Songs from being perfect nowadays is the existence of the next Dirty Three LP, entitled Whatever You Love, You Are, which is just a slight bit better than Ocean Songs. After all, how can one say that Ocean Songs is perfection when Dirty Three have recently proved that they can, in fact, do better?

After a couple of years of side projects (all three members released at least one solo album during this period, in addition to Ellis playing with Nick Cave and Turner and White playing with Cat Power, among others, not to mention the In the Fishtank EP they did with the band Low), Dirty Three has just released a new album, She Has No Strings Apollo, and the bar is impossibly high. That said, Apollo is not as good as Whatever You Love, nor is it as good as Ocean Songs. It is, however, as good as Horse Stories, and while being vaguely disappointing to all of the long-time Dirty Three fans out there, it is still a fantastic record. There is absolutely no better music to listen to while sleeping or otherwise winding down than Dirty Three, and for that reason alone, a new album will always be welcomed and appreciated.

There are three standout tracks on Apollo. The first of the three is the opening track, entitled “Alice Wading.” Dirty Three is not usually known to rock quite in the way this song does; the most comparable Dirty Three piece is “To Aster!” from the 1998 EP Ufkuko. On “Long Way to Go With No Punch,” the band finds itself straying from the bare bones violin/guitar/drums equation to stick a tinkling piano into the mix. The result is at first kind of disconcerting, but once gotten used to, it plays like “Horse” from Horse Stories (the one Dirty Three track that had vocals). The final track on Apollo, “Rude (and then some slight return),” adds a new dimension to the way Dirty Three songs are usually written; it meanders and does not get from Point A to Point B by taking a direct route. So even if, for the first time in almost a decade, Dirty Three has failed to top themselves, at least we can rest assured that they haven’t given up hope that they can.

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