dirty three – ocean songs

do you wanna start it, or should i?

so i’ve lost the plot here a little. not in life generally… at least, i don’t think so.

and this album right here is a way of re-centring. as i’ve been driving lately, these songs have appeared on random. i am so far from ocean, but this teleports me to places and times very far from here (and yet, indeed, in the core of my being at every moment).

the immediacy of all three elements – drums just barely first; guitar second; violin/viola third. the reality of knowing it was three humble australian guys sitting around looking at each other just before they started playing this unbelievable music. i think one of the reasons this album is so affecting, is because its sounds feel like their live performance (i mean to say feel there, rather than just sounds). if listened to loud enough, and with reduced light, you are there as they create it. more on this, derivatively, below.

opener sirena begins the waves moving, the ebb and flow. it happens in a way that is extremely difficult to explain. i think the rhythm shifts in bars of three, and the emphasis is on the first note of each three. there are the never-ceasing waves. play it in your head.

this apparent pattern gives way into the restless waves, a song in which the main rhythm is established by warren’s violin (the rest has less structure). i now find it almost impossible to not see the trawler ‘silently’ being pushed around by the large waves in footage from dutch harbor. but at the heart of this song is a paradox: at the two-minute mark, there is an undeniable warmth to the whole piece, while the percussive elements remain chilly, or thin, in some ways. jim rarely uses his bass drum; mick stays with higher tones on his guitar. it’s the first time on the album that tears come to my eyes… far from the last.

perhaps part of the paradox is that its intent, or actual use, was for something much colder than its context in australia, in land-bound places and temperate climates. i bought this album when it was newly released. it was the first dirty three i owned. its place to me was the coastline of adelaide and to the south. late nights and early mornings were spent sitting in my 1962 volkswagen beetle on headlands along that coastline, watching sometimes the unsettled water, other times the pure stillness, often with moonlight cast over its expanse. it always had a desolate warmth.

there are some quite obvious cues across this album as to its capacity to invoke emotion, as i’ve discussed elsewhere about lyricless music (and to this point, wondered how it was possible). a great example is authentic celestial music, which builds constantly and unrelenting, except for minor respite through the middle, until it crashes over itself after more than eight minutes of the storm. it is impossible to not be carried along to that almost destructive catharsis. and then is followed by calm sea, in backwards voyager. the chaos eases; mick’s guitar is crisp.

the album rounds out with songs that feel like an ongoing ending to a journey. most of them have a sense of completion, with slightly less melancholy associated; more optimism, or acceptance. it’s not finality in any way – not a story told with a neat conclusion. the second-last song is aptly titled deep waters, and draws out the last moments of the album through a satisfying loop of sixteen minutes of everything that makes it what it is. the final song, ends of the earth, is a quiet rumination on that journey. it’s like sunlight appearing over the horizon, knowing the full spectrum of the chaos and the calmness will be repeated forever throughout infinity.

it must be said, clearly and unequivocally: this album is and always will be my favourite, of all time, of any band or artist. and one song, last horse on the sand, is my most treasured song – in fact, it is my song. it’s so hard for me to explain why. and maybe it just needs to be understood without words.

perhaps i have arrived here, tonight, because i dreamt last night about the man to whom i most connected this album; and least wanted to let go. i thought i had already explained elsewhere among these pages that i relayed to him the experience of laying in the dark in my old house in adelaide, listening at volume to this album, crying such as it makes one do, and thinking of him. he was working in papua new guinea at the time; he said “i don’t know what to say”. in spite of what that seems to imply, i think it was the closest we ever were (and the most distant we ever felt).

see, a beautiful paradox.


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