If you were to drive down a particularly empty road one night, maybe in the Australian Outback or the Mojave or even winding through the Sahara, you might feel a particular sense of desolation, something melancholy to the point of an almost physical pain and at the same time so deep that it makes you want to weep with awe. The vastness, the emptiness, the alienesque scale of it all - unlike anything to be found in cities or towns or anywhere you might call home. At some point in the middle of it all, you might hear a rumble: the first signs of a colossal desert storm, ready to bear down on you.
That's what Dirtmusic's new album Bu Bir Ruya sounds like. After three albums inspired by sounds of West Africa (including BKO, a collaboration with the Tuareg trailblazers of Tamikrest), the Australian-American group (once a trio, now a duo) heads north to Turkey to work with a whos-who of the modern Bosphorus psychedelic scene. Baba Zula's leader Murat Ertel lends his nimble bağlama fingers to the band's fundamental blues rock, adding winding melodies between bold electric chords. Experimental solo artist Gaye Su Akyol joins the album for "Love Is a Foreign Country", a slow, hypnotic piece.
Lyrically, the songs allude to higher stakes than a night drive. "So many others, just like me / Did I lose my identity?" growls Hugo Race in astonishingly ominous opener "Bi Di Sen Söyle", his voice consistently low and steady across the album. It's ambiguous, but at the very start of following track "The Border Crossing", the album's themes come into clearer focus with a blunt entreaty: "Hey, mister, don't you know the world is getting smaller? / I need you to help me get across the border." While it names no names, Bu Bir Ruya takes this track to align itself firmly with resistance and resilience. Before a wordless break of hard-hit drums and slithering guitar and bağlama, the song drives home a desperate message applicable to the world: "Hey, sister / Every one of us is somebody's brother / We are all other."
A more electronic vibe takes over on "Go the Distance", where synthetic club-style beats merge easily with Ümit Adakale's galloping percussion before heading back onto the open road with more fuzzy, electric grooves. Su Akyol carries her track with a voice that goes from languid and fluid to airborne under her considerable control, leading the record to "Safety in Numbers", a song that sees Race ready to fight on the side of humanity: "If we can all resist / If we can all resist / We could be released." Triplet patterns drive it forward into "Outrage", a looser tune that warns of the social crisis reaching critical mass as the music builds.
At long last, the cinematic journey culminates in the title track, full of crystalline loops and raw energy, the eye of the storm, the heart of a thundercloud. It makes for a fittingly furious ending to Bu Bir Ruya. Here, Dirtmusic is a band with a quest, a purpose, and while the narrative that binds the album together is never so explicit that it becomes musical theater, the story is there, unquestionably, and told in sounds that truly enrapture.