Dirty Three / Low

In the Fish Tank #7

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In the Fish Tank #7 Review

by Thom Jurek

In late 1999, the Dutch label KonKurrent invited Minneapolis band Low into an in-house studio to record one of the label's near-legendary In the Fishtank sessions; bands have two days to record between 20-30 minutes of all new material of their choosing. Also touring at the time were Low's pals, the Australian instrumental dynamos the Dirty Three. Low invited them in, and in the same collaborative spirit as another In the Fishtank session involving Tortoise and the Ex, this half-hour session is the document. What is truly amazing about this hookup is how natural these two bands sound playing with one another. Low has been striking out lately, playing different kinds of material while keeping its signature slower-than-slow approach to songwriting. The Dirty Three has taken a more melodic and dynamically restrained tack since their landmark Ocean Songs recording of a few years back. Of the six songs recorded here, none is more successful that the nearly ten-minute cover of Neil Young's "Down By the River." Mick Turner's trademark guitar style opens the work with lots of brush and cymbal work. It's unrecognizable for the first five minutes; it's just an opening shimmering drone with guitar strings wafting in and out of the atmospherics before Low's Mimi begins singing the verse and Alan teams with Turner to entwine guitars. And when Warren Ellis' violins slip into the middle of the stream, the eerie effect is complete, and the trancelike motion of the song takes hold and won't let go until silence takes over. The other five tracks are sensual Low originals full of longing and resplendent minimalism. The D3 hold their place in the Low mix, painting it out over a vaster, more colorful expanse, creating more space in their trademark suffocating mix. Alan and Mimi croon together, singing like lovers rather than as bandmates on "Invitation Day." Mimi's vocal and Turner's guitar playing sound enmeshed on "When I Called Upon Your Seed." Drummer Jim White is also a perfect foil for Low; his off-time washes of brush and muted rimshots split the notion of time in two, making the vocal and the tune's time signature two separate entities in a sea awash with the driftwood of the other instruments. Alan's harmonium and organ and Turner take the tune out with Ellis' haltingly shimmering strings. He opens "Cody," however, with the most lonesome, forlorn fiddle line this side of Hank Williams' "Six More Miles to the Graveyard," though it echoes Fartein Valen more than country music. This is really the D3 with Low lending textural ambience and structural balance. It's full of a haunted, hunted beauty that only the D3 can muster up, and it is enhanced by the addition of Zak Sally's bass playing. The disc closes with "Lordy," featuring Low's Alan (providing banjo accompaniment) and Mimi in a gospel-drenched duet before the D3 kick in full-tilt with sawing violin from Ellis tearing the tune apart from the inside; Turner plays slide and counters him to keep in it in a blues mode as White and Mimi duke it out on the trap kits. Turner's scree ends just as the banjo re-enters and Alan forlornly pleads for his soul to be saved as the track just falls apart before ending properly. This is a studio collaboration that works. It's half an hour of music made from the heart of goodwill and the desire by six musicians to do nothing more than play together to see what happens. What resulted is some of the best material either unit has produced.

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