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Dirty Three

by Philip Brasor

Instrumental post-rock comes in two distinct forms: pseudo-jazz that flirts with odd time signatures and knotty arrangements (Tortoise and the Thrill Jockey crew), and guitar bands who play two chords over and over while messing with dynamics (Godspeed You! Black Emperor, Mogwai). Then there’s Dirty Three, who formed in Melbourne in the early 1990s.

Centered on Warren Ellis’s scratchy, mournful violin, the Australian trio is a song band without a vocalist, which explains why the individual members occasionally wander off to tour with singers — Ellis with Nick Cave, drummer Jim White with Smog and Will Oldham. Dirty Three’s appeal has always been their cinematic sense of melody, but sometimes you just gotta have that human voice too. On their latest album, “Cinder,” they finally bring in a few singers, such as Chan Marshall of Cat Power fame, whom White and guitarist Mick Turner accompanied on her 1998 album “Moon Pix.”

The three also augment their usual instrumental palette, Ellis with viola, bouzouki, mandolin and piano; Turner with bass and organ. The resulting difference is more a matter of texture than dynamics or style, but whether or not the new equipment has anything to do with it, the tracks are actually more melodic and shorter than past work. The brevity makes these songs sound more like sketches, ideas that are meant to be filled out at a later date, presumably at a club in your home town.