ALBUM REVIEW: Nick Cave & Warren Ellis – Loin Des Hommes

Rating7nick_cave_warren_ellis_loin_des_hommes_ostBad Seeds co-conspirators Nick Cave and Warren Ellis have created a haunting score to the film Loin Des Hommes, a French film adaptation of Albert Camus’ short story The Guest by director David Olehoffen. Experienced in isolation, without the film to provide the creative scenery, the soundtrack works as a tension-filled, primarily instrumental collection of pieces that use piano, violin, droning tones and some electronica to form a feeling of both beauty and dread. The pair have been composing soundtracks for over a decade now and over that time they’ve developed a unique style of dark and drifting moods and experimental otherworldliness that continues here.

Chris Familton

this review was first published in The Music

ALBUM REVIEW: Dirty Three | Toward The Low Sun

written by Chris Familton

Dirty Three are a band that sound like they are both falling apart and implicitly intertwined at the same time. Their music can reach peaks of ache and despair and create moments of such tenderness and emotional resonance that it is hard to think of any other group that possesses such abilities. They inhabit a netherworld between jazz, post rock, folk and psych rock while never taking up residence in any one of those places for more than a fleeting moment. Dirty Three are musical gypsies by nature and as such they choose to touch down, pool their ideas and record when the timing is right and geographical location permits. Thankfully the stars have aligned for the release of Toward The Low Sun, their eighth album and in Warren Ellis’ words perhaps their best yet.

Those are fighting words from the violinist, especially when records like Horse Stories and Ocean Songs are so highly regarded. Since those albums there have been many moments of magic but none have been as fully realised as those releases from the mid 90s. Time apart, it appears, has done wonders for them this time round with Toward The Low Sun feeling raw yet orchestrated, succinct without losing that feeling of wander and lust that so permeates their work. Opening with the frantic dissonance of Furnace Skies they sound like they are making a statement that they are back, energised and by no means mellowed by the passing of time. Jim White is an aural blur in the background while Mick Turner stands in the centre of the storm dispatching spare chords with casual menace. Ellis serenades the scene with those romanticised passes across the strings before an organ joins the fray, showing they are open to incorporating other instruments when the music calls for them.

Piano is the key addition creating the central melodies of Sometimes I Forget You’ve Gone while White continues on his own percussive time travel on the other side of the room. It is a beautiful and fresh angle on the Dirty Three ‘sound’, opening up a myriad of possibilities without sacrificing their core grace and grandeur. Moon On The Land is a respite from White’s frantic dispatches as he plays it straight and Turner switches to acoustic guitar. It is a Mogwai-esque folk tune that serves as the perfect prelude to the ‘Dirty Three by numbers’ (but oh what glorious numbers) of Rising Below with that trademark build of energy and sound that feels like an approaching whirling dervish.

Dirty Three have been well-served by some stellar production on this record from Casey Rice and Adam Rhodes. The spread of sound on tracks like the magical Rain Song brings you right into the room and creates the impression of wandering amongst the players. Turner’s guitar is closely mic’d making his intermittent notes all the more resonant. He is the unsung hero of the trio, not possessing the drama and presence of Ellis nor the brawn and dexterity of White, yet take away his guitar and there is only a skeleton left. Turner has the ability to play notes seemingly in their own space and time, almost randomly, yet they sit exactly where you want to hear them.

That Was Was and Ashen Snow are sonic bookends for the range that Dirty Three dish up on Toward The Low Sun. The former is the trio in rockist mode with chugging chords and Ellis in swaggering with caustic flourishes of his violin bow. Ashen Snow then flips the table with a classical folk lightness of touch comprised of gently swelling strings and stately piano that stands as one of the most beautiful five minutes of music they’ve recorded.

The only minor criticism of Toward The Low Sun is that there are few moments of true unbridled abandon that the band can do so well. Those transportive passages where it feels like free-fall or an upward physical acceleration. They hint, almost tease that is where they are heading with the opening clatter of Furnace Skies but that isn’t built upon. It matters little in the scheme of things though as by the end of You Greet Her Ghost which closes out the album you are left satisfied, emotionally charged or depleted (depending on your ‘glass half full/empty’ approach) and content in knowing that Dirty Three are still Dirty Three – still investing their music with subtle explorations and diversions while retaining the qualities that makes them so unique.

this review was first published on FasterLouder

ALBUM REVIEW: Grinderman – Grinderman 2

 

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Many treated the first Grinderman LP as a dalliance, a middle-aged testosterone-fuelled anomaly that Nick Cave and cohorts had to get out of their system between Bad Seeds albums. In the intervening years both Cave and Warren Ellis have continued to strenuously assert that it is an ongoing project that runs parallel to their day job rather than being treated as a lesser child.

By naming the album Grinderman 2 they are again pushing the sense of continuity of the band and instead of the sequel being a watered down version of the first record, like many films tend to be, it is instead an evolution – deeper, darker, funnier and more disturbing than it’s predecessor.

From the opener ‘Mickey Mouse and the Goodbye Man’ it is clear that the quartet are again intent on embracing depravity with fantastical scenes of cannibalism, bat-faced girls and lupine children. Ellis is Cave’s permanent sidekick now and here he wrings out gleeful pig-like squeals, screams and  angry flashes of demonic sonic squalls like a post-punk take on Angus Young’s accents on ‘Jailbreak’. It is an assertive scene-setter for an album that builds and mutates from that point on.

Cave seems particularly taken with mythical creatures and their real and imagined manifestation in all of us. He sings of snake charmers, the Loch Ness Monster, abominable snowmen and spider goddesses. Not content to deal only in fantasy figures he also takes aim at established religious figureheads like Allah, Buddha and Krishna on ‘Heathen Child’ – a tale of coming of age and the formation of one’s beliefs.

‘When My Baby Comes’ is perhaps the highpoint of the album. A looped collage of disconcerting yet strangely warming sounds providing a bed for Cave to sing intimate and gentle insinuations of rape and violence. There aren’t many who can weave abhorrent human behaviour into hypnotically seductive music so effectively.

The bawdy sleaze of Cave’s novel The Death of Bunny Munro makes an appearance on ‘Kitchenette’, an excuse for Cave to indulge in his married housewife-baiting fantasies, replete with Cave-isms like “Oprah Winfrey on a plasma screen” and the subject’s “brood of jug-eared buck-toothed imbeciles.” Built on a slow groove it is yet another song that cleverly balances the elements of perv and poise.

For those looking for something akin to The Bad Seeds then the love song ‘Palaces of Montezuma’ is the one. An attempt to qualify the value of love, it swings sweetly like the shuffling pop moments on ‘Lyre of Orpheus’ and is in many ways a welcome reprieve from the sordid yet satisfying dissonance across most of the record. Though it feels slightly out of place, it does serve to illustrate that at the heart of Cave’s writing is the mystery of love – as tragedy, addiction and  redemption.

The collaborative writing process of all four Grindermen and the mantra that ‘anything and everything goes’ is what separates the band from their other work. With album number two they have both expanded and refined the way they construct their music and once more Cave has shown that he is still stalking and hunting his muse with malevolent intent. 

Chris Familton

INTERVIEW: WARREN ELLIS


written by Chris Familton

Warren Ellis is a busy man. On the line from his home in France he is momentarily catching his breath before diving back into the world of Dirty Three, the band that he first came to fame with in the early 90s. They are due to play shows across Australia and New Zealand early in 2010, including full performances of their classic Ocean Songs album.

Ellis is of course also the foil to Nick Cave in The Bad Seeds and Grinderman as well as his co-composer on a growing number of film projects that have been compiled on the recently released 2CD White Lunar.

Juggling all of these projects must be a tricky thing to manage I ask Ellis. “There are times when you have clashes and things don’t work and you just have to work with it. Fortunately everyone is kind of understanding as it has its inherent and inevitable problems. I just try and do as much as I can while I can, while its there,” he replies.

Looking back on Dirty Three’s discography, Ellis finds it hard to have a perspective on which is his favourite. “They’re not the sort of records that I put on for my own enjoyment like I do other records. They are just things I’ve done and been involved with. I don’t look upon them in the same light as other records. Its very difficult when its something you’ve been involved with,” he admits, before adding “We are yet to write our classic album.”

Compare their recorded work to their infamous and emotionally resonant live performances and Ellis is more forthcoming. “For me Dirty Three’s evolution took place on the stage. Its very much what happened in the live context that I found of interest personally with the group. You really live in the moment. The album is a very different experience, there’s the recording and then thats the end of it. I always thought we were a much more enjoyable live proposition,” he opines.

“If you don’t see it like that you just end up doing covers of your own records. That’s how I see it, you may as well be playing in a covers band at the Chadstone Shopping Centre – at least you could play songs you like; you could play Stairway To Heaven till the cows come home. You’d get to do that great lead break all the time. Or you could do Whole Lotta Rosie down at the Frankston Football Club and have the time of your life every night doing the intro and the sing a long,” laughs Ellis.

With increasingly longer periods apart, I wonder if Dirty Three have to work to recapture the magic or whether its just like riding a bicycle. “We’re all playing outside of the group so we keep our foot in it so to speak – that helps. You come back into it with a bit of what you’ve been doing affecting it and you’ve learnt things you wouldn’t have just playing with Dirty Three. Its a constant trade-off, each thing informs the other,” explains Ellis.

“We just toured so much in the early days and when we weren’t playing we were trying to kill each other. It was both a close and unnatural relationship. The thing is we can have days where we run out there and it all comes together and other days when it goes flat on its face and you’re constantly picking yourself up off the ground and I think that’s a great thing about playing live. You never really know which way its going to fall,” says Ellis.

The good news is that a new Dirty Three album is already underway and the Australian tour gives them a chance to reconvene and finish the record. “We’ve started work on one and the plan is that when we are out in Australia we’ll hopefully get it concluded and look at releasing it next year. Its become increasingly problematic over the years as people have established families and doing other work. There’s just not the time to do things and find a moment when everybody is available but that’s fine too. We’re due a record and it feels like the right time which is good,” says an upbeat Ellis.

Grinderman are still in their relative infancy but they too have almost completed work on their second album, which Ellis expects to be out in the first half of 2010. “We still have to finish off a couple of technical things and the mastering. Its basically finished so we’ll have to decide which songs to keep and which ones we won’t be using,” says Ellis.

“We’ve tried to steer clear of the first one and tried to let it go somewhere else and take it somewhere else and it feels like that happened so we’re really happy with it. The last thing we wanted to do was make a record the same as the first one, as charming as it was. To repeat it would have been pointless. Its going to be a great record that one, a ripper,” enthuses Ellis.

Ellis is also proud of White Lunar, a collection of soundtrack music that works just as effectively outside the movie theatre. “It was nice to collect that stuff all together in one place and put it out. Things get put forward and we look at them, we don’t say yes to everything. Its not like its the only thing we have to do. I really like doing the film scores, I find them really liberating and its great to have something you are working for as opposed to a big blank canvas when you are making an album.”

Cave and Ellis have a specific modus operandi with their film work that suits a specific type of film. “We come from a very different background to traditional score composers and we work in a very organic way. Our approach isn’t for every type of film or director. It wouldn’t work for James Bond or something like that. We don’t have the skill to do that kind of thing.” he admits. I suggest that Grinderman would do a killer Bond theme and Ellis laughs, “Well that would be fun, I’d have a shot at that!”

Among all of these projects Ellis also has a solo album that has been burning a hole in his pocket for a while now. “I have an album worth of stuff that I spoke to Kevin Shields of My Bloody Valentine about working on but its still just sitting there, I oddly thought it was something I’d get onto this year and finish it off. Its just a matter of finishing some of the material and then mixing it, explains Ellis.

The final word on the world of Warren goes to The Bad Seeds and how Mick Harvey’s departure earlier this year has affected the group. “I guess how that impacts on the band remains to be seen. Another album hasn’t even been discussed yet so the impact will be seen when we get to another album you know. These things always have some kind of impact.It was very sad that Mick left.” says Ellis.

Warren Ellis is a man on a musical mission and though it requires a huge amount of energy and planning it is something that he clearly loves and is driven to do. “Its fortunate I’ve been doing so many other things otherwise I might have gone mad. I’m very happy to be doing lots of different things.”

This interview first appeared on FasterLouder