With a shared connection to Australian melancholy and melodrama (as well as being susceptible to ill-advised facial hair and drug-addiction) it was perhaps inevitable that Dirty Three lynchpin Warren Ellis would eventually become Nick Cave’s (red) right hand man, especially when veteran Bad Seeds Mick Harvey and Blixa Bargeld quit their chief supporting lieutenant roles in recent years. Besides taking on more multi-instrumentalist and co-writing duties within Cave’s Bad Seeds, Ellis has also played with Cave on his semi-solo tours, become a co-conspirator in sleaze-rocking side-project Grinderman and helped to stockpile an Aladdin’s Cave of film soundtrack material. It’s the latter comradely pursuits that this new 2CD compilation attempts to put into a comfortable package for those who just can’t get enough from the twosome, or need a roadmap to understand where it leads into their better-known works; which it just about succeeds in doing.
The first disc rounds up highlights from the previously released soundtracks to the nouveau westerns The Assassination of Jesse James and The Proposition, along with material composed for the score of an upcoming adaptation of Cormac McCarthy’s novel The Road. On the four tracks from the former, it’s Ellis who leads the way via his masterful violin-playing – with Cave backing him up with lilting and plaintive piano lines – summoning up bewitching, albeit somewhat uneventful, moodscapes with serenity and restraint. The seven cuts from The Proposition, although swimming in the same tributary, are more varied and engaging; with “Road To Banyon” bringing in some murky skeletal folk-blues, the deeply creepy “The Rider No. 2” adding disembodied Cave vocals, and the balminess of “The Rider Song” drawing the twosome towards surprisingly genteel barroom balladry. The all-instrumental pieces previewed from The Road are certainly less distinctive in comparison, with Ellis’s violin and Cave’s piano undemonstratively oscillating between the dominant lead role, but it’s pleasant enough stuff that’s bound to sound a lot better next to the final celluloid companion.
Disc two scoops-up more miscellaneous and obscure works; cut for a film about neurosurgery being pioneered in post-Soviet Ukraine (The English Surgeon), a no doubt grim documentary about sex workers in Cambodia (The Girls of Phnom Penh), and four unused pieces from the duo’s word-free archives. Mixed-up chronologically, this second gathering feels more like an attempt to create a standalone album from like-minded sources. The results are less cinema-centric and certainly rawer. Touching on eerie looped discordance (“Zanstra” and “Kerrison’s Punch”), neo-classical percussion-led minimalism (“Micro Sucker”), No Pussyfooting-era Fripp and Eno dronescapes (“Window”), Dirty Three-style pathos (“Dandy Brain”) and spooky wordless incantations (“Magma”).
Overall, this double-sized filmic selection pulls Warren Ellis and Nick Cave further and further away from their usual comfort zones, which is both brave and intimidating. It may not be an automatic purchase for followers of the two protagonists’ ‘day-jobs’ but certainly it’s one worth having on hand to spin when there’s a desolate landscape to traverse and soak-in.