By Emma Silvers
By Gary Moskowitz
By Alee Karim
By Ian S. Port
By Ian S. Port
By Derek Opperman
By Emma Silvers
By Alee Karim
(Touch and Go)
Why Australian instrumentalists Dirty Three should have piqued the interest of higher-profile supporters and tourmates like Pavement, Sonic Youth, the Jon Spencer Blues Explosion, Nick Cave, the Beastie Boys, Beck, and Rickie Lee Jones -- I shrug heartily (and blush from all the name-dropping). Granted, like those more bankable interests, they're weirdos, prone to fits of experimentation (yup, noise). Unlike the others, however, they have (obviously) no vocals, and, short of those gusting moments toward the end of various cuts on Horse Stories where structure dissolves and tonality's no more a concern than a stray sheet of toilet paper trod underfoot, they're rather homey. Their music is, in fact, pure folk. Not like that of a hootenanny or a be-in, mind you: Everything's stripped (like Jim White's unpredictable and entirely rocking drum accents) and expressive (like Warren Ellis' fiddle, which often sounds like it's breathing), and you certainly couldn't picture a hirsute Guthrie sitting in for a spell. Good thing, too. Instrumental music of this caliber would only suffer by being paved with some moist-lipped protest song or ode to Paul Bunyan.
What I mean by "folk music" is instead a more genuine sort of collaboration, in which so many modern bands forget they're participating, where everyone has a spontaneous and equal say in the construction of the music. In Dirty Three, the drum kit, violin, and guitar all speak an equal piece, though their roles by necessity remain defined: Drums play in and around the rhythm, guitar provides the harmonic meat, and violin injects melody and sound effects. Any of these tracks -- whose titles, like "Hope," "Warren's Lament," and "Sue's Last Ride," are essentially just conveniences for referring back to specific instrumentals -- could have been constructed only moments before the recording session, and it's a testament to the talent of all involved that none of the tracks feel like filler.
That's not to say that Horse Stories is an untouchable, vacuum-sealed masterpiece. When music is this spontaneous, it's prone to roughshod characteristics. Several of the tracks fall back on a predictable form in the key of E -- a sort of distorted flamenco where everything splashes about and squeals like a greasy, lewd otter. But this speaks also to that wonderful quality of instrumental music, where you need lend it only as much attention as you'd like. Horse Stories is equally contemplative and carnal; which is to say, both and neither. Depending on your mood (and, I guess, the stereo volume), it can envelop you like an overly affectionate, dyspeptic amoeba or bore you half to fucking death. Unlike many of the notables mentioned up top, at least there's the former option.
And a Whole Lotta You!
If you'll kindly hum an old Kinks-style garage rock riff, I'll let the Hi-Fives address the topic: "Play smart and you're dumb/ Believe me man it's been done/ Try not to succumb -- Smart and Dumb have been known to do lunch" ("Say What'cha Want"). Yes, there are indeed many ways to define intelligence, and in the music biz, as the Hi-Fives deftly remind us, one of them is knowing how to access the building blocks of rock.
1) Respect your audience; wear uniforms. With idiots like that Prodigy guy marching around in a bee suit showing off his bald spot, much less the general level of hyperbolic '70s fashion, the Hi-Fives are positively rad as they whip their ties around and sweat up their streamlined suits.
2) Keep the chops simple and catchy, tight, gritty-clean. Don't bother with "experimental" chords. Remember: Rock is about the kids getting out there and shaking their asses. Give them something to shimmy to. Remember the antithesis: that guy from Jethro Tull prancing around in a karate suit diddling his flute.
3) Be relentless. Never pause for more than a four count between songs. Drummers take note: Frenetic energy is your responsibility. Steal your mom's Dexatrim if you have to, or your little brother's Ritalin. Round off the edges with a six-pack of Schlitz. But pound those skins like there's no tomorrow.
4) Sing melodies about obsessive teen desire -- no wandering, mystic forays into the land of elves. Let the lyrics fold in on themselves until all meaning becomes opaque, and desire boundless: "We could go for a walk and call it a stroll/ Have a talk and call it a chat/ I wouldn't really care/ Nothing at all just as long as I'm where you're at" ("I'll Take You There").
5) Have the background vocals jump in with simple harmonies on words like "Whoa" and "Yeah-yeah-yeah." Leave Pet Sounds to the Beach Boys. When you can, accent "you." It should go without saying that at least 90 percent of your songs should be in the direct address. With the other 10 make sure to use "girl" or "boy," never "lady" or "bitch" or "bad-ass dude."
6) When in doubt (or hyperventilated), play a quick and twangy surf-oriented instrumental. Or break out your favorite cover tune from the Sonics or the Clash or the Dave Clark Five -- or Soft Cell, as the Hi-Fives have done with a snappy rendition of "Tainted Love."