Dirty Three – Ocean Songs

Peaceful, turbulent, majestic fourth album by Melbourne trio

For anyone who hasn’t heard, or who is unfamiliar with The Dirty Three, then you don’t know what you’re missing, because this trio of instrumentalists from Melbourne, Australia were, at least for a time, one of the world’s best kept musical secrets, and perhaps still are, since their music isn’t exactly what one would commercially friendly.

Made up of Warren Ellis (violin, bass guitar), Mick Turner (lead guitar), and Jim White (drums), together create and construct unique and hypnotic compositions that simply defy categorisation.

Ocean Songs, the group’s fourth album (or fifth if one includes their original cassette), is a heady mixture of instrumental sea shanties and coastal atmospherics. On opener “Sirena,” one can simply close their eyes and imagine themselves sailing across the water. Likewise “The Restless Waves,” which manages to mesmerise the listener with airy violin, soft chords, and gentle drumming.

The appropriately titled “Distant Shore” is like a soft seaside caress, one full of undulating waves and perhaps a yacht or two in the distance. One thing’s certain: this is music to rouse the imagination and stir images in the mind of the listener.

The dirge-like “Authentic Celestial Music” is perhaps the LP’s centrepiece, and akin to an oceanic rollercoaster, rising and falling with every few bars, before calmer waters prevail on the mournful “Backwards Voyager,” and the majestically soothing “Last Horse On The Sand.”

Like any great soundtrack (or concept album), pretty much everything on Ocean Songs works beautifully, with each track segueing seamlessly into the next, so perfectly and effortlessly. “Sea Above, Sky Below” and “Black Tide” drift along the compositional currents with a hint of darkness on the horizon, while the lengthy “Deep Waters” has the power to simply make one sit back and reflect on themselves and their surroundings (a bit like “Sitting On The Dock Of The Bay,” sans vocals).

Final track, “Ends Of The Earth,” could simply be an extension of the previous number, with its lilting violin and Turner’s lulling guitar, during which each note is like a brush stroke delicately applied upon the canvass of nature – in other words, breathtaking.

What The Dirty Three achieved on this release is something both inspired and spiritual in equal measure – because Ocean Songs isn’t just any album by just any other band. What Ellis, Turner and White managed to create more than twenty years ago isn’t only music, but art itself.