By Cory Sklar
By Alee Karim
By Christina Li
By Dave Pehling
By Ian S. Port
By SF Weekly
By Ian S. Port
By Ian S. Port
(Touch and Go)
Displaying a reticence that barely conceals a fluid sense of dynamics, Dirty Three creates an inviting space out of what ought to be a house of cards. This instrumental unit from Melbourne, Australia, typically builds its compositions around the barest of frameworks -- usually guitar, drums, and violin, though the occasional accordion and harmonica find their way into the mix. Due to its odd-man-out status, Warren Ellis' violin is usually the lead voice by default, but these songs often threaten to implode from collective hesitation. That they usually don't is a big part of their charm.
In fact, the Dirty method is least successful on a cut like "Better Go Home Now," in which guitarist Mick Turner and drummer Jim White lay down a solid rhythmic backing, letting Ellis carry the riff/melody line, the way a purely "rock" trio might structure a piece. It's more fun to hear the Three struggle to give each other space while building to an unexpected climax, as on "Indian Love Song," the record's 10-minute opener, which is built on the sparest of Bo Diddley beats. A minimalist track like "Odd Couple," constructed around mournfully undulating accordion chords, achieves a certain beauty because of what isn't played; it keeps ripping holes in itself but always remains upright.
Call it a jazz ethos coupled with a rocklike inclination toward psychic meltdown. Ellis made a name for himself playing on Nick Cave records, and both Turner and White did time in Venom P. Stinger. Like other musicians who've made the transition from post-punk to post-rock (most notably the Universal Congress Of, recalled here on the frenzied "Dirty Equation"), the Three often finds itself fusing unexpected stylistic elements. The best example of this is "Everything's Fucked," in which the despair invoked by the title is reworked by slowly cascading violin lines to evoke a sense of rebirth. You know, that 4 a.m. mood when you realize that everything's fallen apart but you now have the freedom to put it back together again.
One would be right to assume that with a name like Versus, conflict is the order of the day for this NYC-based trio of post-Sonic Youth power-popsters. If you're looking for political diatribes and ideological rants, however, you're better off toting your merry pink ass down to Tower to pick up the new Rancid, 'cause there aren't any here; in Versus' case, the conflict is internal, galvanized into an existential tug of war and articulated via the scrape of a guitar string and quavering voices groping toward resonance. Can quiet desperation be said to make noise? In this case, it can.
Comprised of various early singles, compilation cuts, and unreleased material from the band's nascent period (one suspects that TeenBeat compiled this puppy on the quick to correspond with the band's Second Stage stint on the Lollapalooza tour), Dead Leaves lacks the steam-building oomph of 1993's Let's Electrify! EP or The Stars Are Insane, last year's full-length watershed, but it still serves to neatly exemplify Versus' MO. Richard Baluyut's circular, muted guitar figures, coupled with the pining timbre of his and bassist Fontaine Toups' vocals, inevitably lull the listener into a reflective state. Problem is, the resultant ruminations almost always lead to someplace you'd rather not be. Toups' "Forest Fires" is a case study in alienation, with the bassist moaning that "all we've got left are memories," while "Crazy" finds Baluyut brooding over a ghostly visitation from a long-dead friend. He may claim, in "Bright Light," that "I'm sick of melancholia," but the wistful la-la-las that follow instantly belie him. Melancholia is Baluyut's muse; without it, he'd be even more lost than he already is.
If imbalance characterizes the lyrics, though, it's carefully countered by Versus' masterful grasp of dynamics. Thus, when the inner children are in imminent danger of becoming too precious for words, the visceral roar of Rock Power swoops down to save the day, trumpeted with the pistol crack of a snare drum and the stomp of a fuzz box. Again and again, the band parlays elegy into euphony, with a knack that few outfits share. Still, while executed with exactitude, the clashes of calm and clamor are of enigmatic origin: Is it resolution or progressively maddening frustration that finally lowers the sonic bomb? Does it matter? Probably not. In the end, it's just another conflict to be explored.
-- Tim Kenneally
Versus plays Thurs, Aug. 17, at the Bottom of the Hill in S.F.; call 626-4455.
Lost Somewhere Between the Earth and My Home
The members of Carla Bozulich's last band, Ethyl Meatplow, couldn't decide whether to introduce guitars into their synth-bondage dance-floor mix, so they broke up. The Geraldine Fibbers, her new group, not only has guitars but also violin, viola, banjo, and lap steel as well -- and it's emerged as one of the most affecting new bands in recent memory.
With Lost Somewhere Between the Earth and My Home, the Fibbers unveil the full-length version of their newfangled take on traditional songwriting. Many of these cuts have previously appeared on Sympathy for the Record Industry releases; late last year, bidding-war victors Virgin put out a teaser EP that included a hidden track co-written and performed with Beck.