Considering I've at the very least enjoyed every single album that Dirty Three have released, it was sort of odd that I completely glossed over their latest release Cinder that came out later last year. It's true that their last album (She Has No Strings Apollo) didn't strike me quite as much as their previous work, but this is a group that somehow managed to always wrench original compositions out of thin air, as if their long-running trio was more a single organism. Their awesome Horse Stories and Ocean Songs releases are exercises in measured fury and slow sadness respectively, and still require frequent listening.
I'm really glad that I finally decided to give in and get Cinder, though, because the group does just about everything they need on the release to win me back as a listener. First off, the group has shortened their compositions, which had sprawled to somewhat unfocused lengths on their last discs, and in addition to more efficiency in their songwriting, they've again taken some chances with unique instrumentation and even teamed up with Cat Power for a track. The result is their finest album at least since Whatever You Love You Are and possibly earlier.
Cinder isn't an album that wallops you over the head at any points, but wins you over with steady and solid songs. The disc opens with "Ever Since" and it sounds like a standard from the group, building with slow swells of violin and some urgent percussion, while "She Passed Through" is about as pop as the group may ever get, packing a couple of quick, gorgeous turns into a three and a half minute song that features some organ and dirty guitar. The same goes for "Sad Sexy," which finds the group taking a much more straightforward direction with coiling violin melodies and chugging guitar and drums.
Elsewhere, the group flat-out rocks out ("Doris," which also features some nicely-used bagpipe), drops some serious ambient mood (the gorgeous "Feral," which also features piano and wordless vocals from Sally Timms), and creates crushing melancholia (the falling-apart "Last Dance"). Then, there's the Cat Power collaboration of "Great Waves," which seems to highlight each artist for the better. The track is an urgent and quietly explosive piece that I enjoy more than any recent solo work I've heard from Marshall, and her voice seems like a natural fit for the instrumentation of the Dirty Three (who she's worked with before). Hearing the track, it seems almost logical that the group should work with some more vocalists in the future, but who knows what that will bring. As it stands, Cinder is a great release from a group I should have known to not write off.