Horse Stories


Band: Dirty Three
Album: Horse Stories
Best song: “Hope” is one of my favorite songs in history.
Worst song: “Red” is not a highlight.

I’m not sure I’ve outlined my feelings on lyrics in this space, but I did do a little bit of it on my old site. In a review of one of my favorite albums, Elliott Smith’s Either/Or, I wrote:

Elliott Smith is probably my favorite songwriter, largely for his ability to translate a rhythm of everyday speech into song. Too many lyrics are simply love/above or one/fun or play/day. You know, it’s the sort of thing you find in a rhyming dictionary or in an *nSync song or something. The kind of thing Swedes write.

It doesn’t fully explain why I like instrumental music so much, but it gets to the core of it. Lyrics can be amazing, as Smith’s are, but are often simplistic and facile. The dynamics of instrumental music are easier to enjoy, identify with and often have the ability to evoke emotion better.

Which brings us to the Dirty Three. Not to quote myself too much — I am wildly self-centered, but you already knew that — but I’ve written about my first exposure to the band when I was in high school. Long story short, I was in a band and one of the most influential people on my musical life got us to try and cover some Dirty Three songs. I then went out and bought Horse Stories and fell in love.

Music like the Dirty Three’s is hard to categorize. At the time of my first exposure to the band, I thought them to be post-rock (though, in my defense,  Allmusic.com has it as “post-rock”). Unfortunately, this was my move; all music was post-rock when I was 16. Genre is stupid, of course.

But, there’s emotion in the Dirty Three’s records. Unlike the unparalleed Mogwai (a band that names their songs with inside jokes, random things, etc.), the Dirty Three’s songs do have evocative names. “Warren’s Lament” is more melancholy than other songs and Jim White’s militaristic drumming on “Horses” resembles a gallop. The album’s only cover song, Arleta’s “I Remember A Time When Once You Used To Love Me,” similarly echoes the original’s sadness in the way Warren Ellis’ violin screeches and sings.

“Hope” is the album’s other highlight. Based around an easy Mick Turner guitar line, the album ebbs and flows with a dynamism reflected in the most accessible mainstream music. However, with the violin playing the only vocal-type track, the record is anything but accessible mainstream music. Instead, it falls somewhere between optimistic and downtrodden, with a minor key sadness that is easy to digest.

Some records don’t need vocals or lyrics. Horse Stories is one of the best of these records.

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