Dirty Three


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AllMusic Review by Thom Jurek

If ever a band were suited to soundtrack work, it's Australia's violin, guitar, and drums trio the Dirty Three. From the outset an instrumental band, D3 has created a music in which dynamic and dramatic are equal partners with melody and dissonance. Praise! is an Aussie independent film directed by John Curran and based upon the down-and-dirty novel by Andrew McGahan. The film stands on its own as a work of creative and artistic Aussie cinema and should be sought out on video. But the music, which adds so much to its effect, is another thing entirely. Perhaps everything that the Dirty Three lend to the soundtrack is summed up in the opening sequence: "I Remember When You Used to Love Me," taken from the band's Horse Stories album -- it's the tune that first grabbed Curran's attention and he reputedly refused the band's request not to include it in favor of something new. Of eight D3 tunes on the soundtrack, three are from previously released albums; the other two are "Toaster" from Ocean Songs and "Devil in the Hole" from Sad & Dangerous. Fans of D3 know the reputation of these selections, especially "Devil in the Hole." But the other five, which are featured prominently on the soundtrack -- which also includes Tex Williams, Warren Ellis, and the band Crow -- are the backbone of the score, beginning with the mournful "Lights Are Yellow & the Night Is Slow," which is speaking not only to the pace of the tune with its lilting piano line by Warren Ellis, who put his violin down for this one, but also for the color tint given to the entire film. This is music that sets up dramatic situations: languid, sad, empty, and lonesome. It's trance-like in that the piano hovers around itself, never quite engaging a tune for drummer Jim White and guitarist Mick Turner to slip into; so they hover even further inside the piano, keeping it warm as it sings its song of pain and sorrow. The tune also sets up the thematic context for some of the other music in the film that is country in expression and doleful in content. Crow is different, more experimental in their approach; a band worth watching out for, especially with the tracks "You're So Beautiful to Know" and "Once Across a Story Bridge." The Dirty Three next appear with "Somewhere Else, Someplace Good," and the piano is again part of their mix, though Ellis uses his violin in multi-tracked fashion to add density to the floating nature of the tune. It's heartbreakingly beautiful in its subtle assertion of loss, which is highlighted by White's brushes and occasional kick drum caress. On "Summer's Lost Heart," it's Mick Turner who takes center stage, guitar muted, played in both single-string and strummed fashion, and is then joined by Ellis for an engaging interlude of extended though tightly wrapped harmonic play. "X-Mas Song" is a waltz played by a band seemingly drunk on its own pain; there is a Western theme slipping through it, too, and White plays cowbells and coconut shells while Ellis quotes the tiniest of fragments from traditional carols, making them all but unrecognizable -- it's a theme more than an idea, but it works very well in this miniature context. Finally, the seven-minute "Strange Holiday" is the most unlike a D3 song ever to be recorded by them. Its theme comes in phrases seemingly played backwards, and it's difficult to say whether or not they are tape manipulations or Ellis playing tricks with his violin. Usually, a D3 song begins very softly, and often moves into another direction entirely, where dynamic and drama increase and chaos and anarchy are allowed into the mix. Here, the opposite is true in every case except for the chaos and anarchy. The tune becomes slower, more somber, quieter; eventually stripping away its body and leaving it in its way -- taped remnants of it falling apart like a snapshot sequence of a disappearance -- which is just what happens: the tune disappears, it doesn't fade. One minute it's there, hovering ghostlike, and the next, it's vanished. As the album ends with a gorgeous vocal tango by Virgilio Arieta, the journey is complete. And while the Dirty Three are the architects and backbone of this soundtrack, as a whole it takes us though a vastly different world than theirs -- which is as it should be.

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