Dirty Three Love Changes Everything

Dirty Three Prove the Theory That Love Changes Everything

Dirty Three continue their long career of making organic, meditative post-rock jazz that always humbly approaches a single moment, without pretense or distraction.

Love Changes Everything
Dirty Three
Drag City
28 June 2024

I was introduced to Dirty Three by watching Warren Ellis stomp his feet and writhe on top of NPR’s famed Tiny Desk. At the time, their latest album had just been released, 2012’s Towards the Low Sun, and the trio of Ellis, guitarist Mick Turner, and drummer Jim White huddled close and ambled patiently through 18 and a half minutes of sonic exploration.   

Apart from putting out a live record and a few short tours together, no new Dirty Three music has been released in the succeeding 12 years. Each member of Dirty Three has instead been prolific elsewhere. Warren Ellis wrote a memoir, Nina Simone’s Gum, and has been involved with every Nick Cave-related project. Mick Turner has been working primarily as a record producer and visual artist, and Jim White has been working with folks like Bonnie “Prince” Billy, Cat Power, Courtney Barnett, and Kurt Vile. White also just released his first solo album earlier this year.

Love Changes Everything marks their return with a torrent of unfiltered instrumental music. It contains a ragged, optimistic, unforgivingly pure kind of jazz that is distilled distinctly through iconoclasts of their respective artistic crafts. The record is a collection of musical variations on the title’s theme, with each song a mere numbered piece of the cumulative whole.    

The best Dirty Three experiences start with primordial melodies that emerge, after some journey, out into jubilance. They’re raw and, yes, “dirty”, sound collages. On “I”, from atop a bed of billowing reverb and guitar sludge, Ellis bows his violin straight through the noise. From White’s drums, a march emerges, and the trio push it eventually towards a genuine pop punk coda. 

As evidenced by his recent film scores with Nick Cave, Ellis’ piano playing is remarkably poignant, uncomplicated, and visceral. On “II”, he provides the rhythm, while White’s stop-start drumming takes the lead, serving as both lyric and melody. Turner’s guitar playing grounds it all, while a synthesizer and an ethereal voice exalt variously throughout. 

If love is the theme here, then “III” comes from that early morning optimistic kind of love—real sanguine, coffee commercial stuff. White delicately corrals Ellis and Turner’s searchings with his own brush clicks and cymbal glances. Ellis alternates between ascending and descending piano chords, eventually arriving at a morning hymn structure that he mirrors and then destroys with his violin. On “III”, each player allows the others so much space yet never feels muted. I think this is what decades spent playing together and decades spent apart sound like.

Dirty Three’s greatest power comes from their ability to let each of their instruments drive the tune, sometimes simultaneously. Turner’s guitar drives on “IV”” at first sounding reminiscent of the opening chords of “Maggot Brain.” But Ellis’s grand viola sweeps are resolute and powerful, pushing this track into full-on mournful Western film score territory by its end.    

Perpetually on the verge of collapse, “V” sees Turner finding a combination honky tonk and power rock riff. Ellis eventually responds with some trademark violin strums of his own. It’s a buoyant vamp that presumably swells to a dangerous wave when played live. Over the final ten minutes of Love Changes Everything, Dirty Three pulsate. “VI” contains such a serpentine ambiance that it becomes an earworm for those seeking a wordless mantra. You can hear Ellis clicking through different effects pedals for his violin, capturing the musical trek in real time. The song is all built and has no fall, pirouetting forever skyward. A grand musical resolution never arrives, but Dirty Three music has never resolved neatly. In narrative terms, their songs lack expected conclusions, becoming a kind of genuine meditation music.  

On Love Changes Everything, Dirty Three continues their long career of making exactly that: organic, meditative post-rock jazz that always humbly approaches a single moment without pretense or distraction. The album is a study of spontaneous communal artistic creation, purposefully human in this increasingly technological void. If it’s another decade before we get another album, we should be content to revel in this collaborative joy and the musical curiosity contained within Love Changes Everything.

RATING 9 / 10