Dirty Three – She Has No Strings Apollo

Dirty Three
She Has No Strings Apollo

As inspirational and as inventive as Australia’s Dirty Three have been over the last 10 years, if truth to be told, the trio’s actual recorded output has become increasingly less indispensable. Since the double-whammy of the band’s classic self-titled second album and its sublime sequel Horse Stories (from 1995 and 1996, respectively) the band’s material has been steadily decelerating in terms of both pace and passion.
On the more recent Ocean Songs (1998) and Whatever You Love, You Are (2000), Warren Ellis (violin/piano), Mick Turner (guitar), and Jim White (drums/percussion) seemed to have been locked into a formulaic loop – repetitiously stretching elongated and melodically-thin instrumentals almost beyond the reach of a persistently patient fanbase. The stagnation has been exacerbated by the ubiquity of the Dirty Three’s distinct sound, with almost every other post-rock/post-folk or Godspeed spin-off outfit undermining the band’s once unique status through flattering imitation. This means that the Dirty Three’s first album-length release in three years comes with weary questions attached – do they still matter, and do they still need to keep releasing records? Thankfully, it’s a reassuring ‘yes’ on both counts. Whilst She Has No Strings Apollo may carry over the watery imagery infused into the last two Dirty Three albums (and indeed from Mick Turner’s recent solo album Moth), the trio also revisit the stormier skies that made them feel so vital and vivacious in the first place.
The opening “Alice Wading” is a well-sequenced quiet/loud starter, with Warren’s mellow violin-plucking melding nicely into Mick’s tremulous guitar shimmers, before the twosome lurch violently into a mantra-like maelstrom. “She Has No Strings” floats through a short lull between blustering tides before conceding to the cacophony of churning violin-screeching and doom-laden guitar clanging. So far, so good. But nothing quite compares to the divine post-thunder tranquillity of “Long Way to Go with No Punch,” in which Warren brings his impossibly pretty piano playing to the foreground, leaving overdubbed violin, guitars, cymbals, and congas to add texture to the background. Just by breaking up the rigidity of their self-imposed violin-drums-guitar triangle, the Dirty Three show that their inspirational ideas can just be a few finger motions away.
“No Stranger Than That” follows, taking two violin lines from sad and sore-eyed melancholy to tumultuous tempo-lurching aggression. In its wake, “Sister Let Them Try and Follow” flails around with less focus, as wild violin arpeggios and stuttering military drums crash into a crumpled discordant dead-end. Momentum is only truly lost however, on the fumbled “She Lifted the Net,” when Warren’s wispy violin is washed out by Jim, as he slaps the skins like a toddler with a toy-drum kit. All is saved, though, as unpredictable waves hit the closing “Rude (and Them Some Slight Return),” wherein Mick perforates an otherwise placid violin/drum piece with feedback-sodden soloing. It’s behaviour wholly out of character for this strictly rhythm ‘n’ strum guitar-man, but it’s a wholly welcome and appropriate way to end the most eclectic and endearing Dirty Three album in quite some time.
Still loveable and still needed, the Australian godfathers of instrumental mayhem and melancholy are back on top. Let’s hope they can stay up there, strings or no strings attached.