Mick Turner – Moth

Since Australia’s most loved instrumental trio – The Dirty Three – are no longer a strictly full-time concern, each band member has used the lengthy patches of downtime to explore equally expressive avenues. Violinist Warren Ellis has split his time between Nick Cave’s Bad Seeds and releasing his own solo recordings. Drummer Jim White has spent substantial stretches of time playing with Smog. The quietest third of the group, guitarist Mick Turner, has bided his time recording/touring with Bonnie ‘Prince’ Billy (AKA Will Oldham) under the alias of the Marquis de Tren, as well as cultivating a series of acclaimed solo albums, with this one being his third since 1997’s Tren Phantasma.
And it’s obvious from the outset that Moth isn’t about grand gestures. There aren’t any song titles listed for starters, just the subtitle “Parts 1-19” to denote the 19 short tracks. An approach that may reek of pretension with the likes of Labradford and Sigur Rós, it makes plenty of sense here, especially given the abstract nature of Turner’s instrumental song arrangements. As clichéd as it may sound, Moth was almost certainly conceived as a flowing composite piece. Pull almost any track out into isolation and it just won’t make sense. So strapping nametags to everything would be an intrinsically meaningless process.
Throughout Moth, Turner’s electric and acoustic guitars (sometimes looped, backwards, or overdubbed) weave sparse threads around low murmuring organs, plaintive piano, fuzzy harmonica, and quietly pattering percussion. Stretching himself between open spaces and claustrophobic close-ups, Turner seems inherently drawn to the notes and nuances that other guitarists might dismiss as inconsequential or too obtuse. There are, of course, things here comparable to the instrumental works of David Grubbs and Papa M, but neither of them quite share Turner’s elastic sense of timing or his deep sense of tranquillity.
Moth unquestionably hinges its resonance on context. We have to ask ourselves, would we really give this record the benefit of our listening and learning curves if it weren’t for the Dirty Three, Will Oldham, and Drag City connections? The honest answer is, probably not – that all-important third spin might never happen. Play Moth at the wrong time (anytime before midday) or in the wrong place (noisy train journeys are a definite no-no) and it might sound like someone aimlessly tuning up in the next room. However, should you spin Moth with a 3 am shot of whiskey, indoors on a rainy day, or in a deserted beach house with gentle waves lapping in and out of your ears’ internal mixer, its soothing pleasures will be more than appreciated.
Moth may require a substantial time/patience investment from the listener, but rest assured it does give back rewards with considerable and continuous interest.