Let’s be honest: no one really knows what to do with rock’n’roll instrumentals. Yes, I realize that in rock’n’roll’s first decade, instrumentals were, well, instrumental in establishing the popularity of the nascent genre. There’s “Sleep Walk,” “Apache,” “Walk Don’t Run,” yada yada yada. But those tended to be short and melodic, typically featuring an atmospheric and memorable lead guitar line. And but for a last gasp by organ-oriented Booker T. and the MGs in the latter half of the ’60s, instrumentals became novelties at best, before, a half decade later, in the hands of the prog-rock colossi, mutating into patience-testing exercises in baroque noodling.
“Rising Below” is neither novelty nor incisive burst of melody nor bombast. It’s a chunky, initially unsteady piece that sneaks in through the side door: guitar and violin motifs enunciate themselves as afterthoughts while drummer Jim White slowly ponders the variations open to him for pounding out the first three beats of each four-beated measure. Listen to what happens after the minute and a half mark—it’s as if he’s now taking the pause in which he leaves out the fourth beat to plan his next rendering; you can almost hear the new idea arrive at the end of each successive measure. And when he gets a really-new versus a subtly-new idea, the instruments follow his lead and change their own courses. The most prominent change happens as the song churns past the three-minute mark. First, White incorporates a couple of snappy rolls into his playing and then, yikes, all hell breaks loose at the drum kit (3:13), prompting the violin and guitar to follow with their own disciplined eruptions of dissonance and noise (especially the violin). Then, around 4:10, the drumming reverts to the simple pounding pattern he had been using at the beginning, the one-two-threefour rhythm that gives us four hits but leaves out the actual fourth beat. It’s like he’s saying, “Okay, calm down now.” And they do. Only it’s a fake-out, since White breaks rank at 4:45 and we get a final 45 seconds of ordered craziness before there is, apparently, nothing left to say. This is not necessarily an easy ride but there’s something endearing about it.
Dirty Three have been doing their inscrutable thing since 1992. “Rising Below” is a song from Toward The Low Sun, the Melborne trio’s ninth album, which was released this week on Drag City Records. It’s been seven years since the last Dirty Three album, and sure enough, they were here then too.
photo credit: Annabel Mehran