The problem with instrumental music is that there's a tendency to use it as aural wallpaper: a pretty pattern that stays at the edges of a room and knows its place is to beautify without distraction. It can have the opposite impact, as a rump-shaking dance soundtrack filled with beat-laden notes will attest. Australia's Dirty Three has consistently found the rarely used middle ground of wordless musical endeavor, where the songs and the arrangements are compelling, involving, and utterly engaging.
Although the Dirty Three has explored similar sonic textures over the course of four previous albums (including 1998's brilliant Ocean Songs and the import-only soundtrack to the film Praise), it shouldn't be misconstrued as being stagnant or unoriginal. The most fascinating aspect of the Dirty Three's sound is the diversity it manages to squeeze from Warren Ellis's violin, Mick Turner's guitar, and Jim White's drums. White, in particular, is a marvel -- somehow performing all the functions of a normal rhythm section without the bass guitar, sometimes setting the pace and sometimes subverting it, but always fashioning the perfect foundation.
On Whatever You Love, You Are, the trio revisits the moody and sweeping melancholy of Ocean Songs, this time with more atonality and subtle rhythm shifts, as though the band has added Miles Davis as an influence in the intervening two years. Turner's guitar is more muted here, which offers room for Ellis to keen and reel and produce a sound that's unsettling when it's at its most unobtrusive. One of the truly magnificent qualities of the Dirty Three's disturbing soundtracks is that they compel the listener to pay close attention, sometimes creating a sound so provocative that, after listening to it, you'd swear there were words telling a story.
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