Something about the guitar tone drew me in from first listen of All Of The Dirt All At Once‘s album VIRE. Knowing absolutely nothing about the Melbourne band before this, my listens were with curiosity, not having come across a heavy instrumental band that consists of two people. Similar to the configuration of ’68 but without the vocals, All Of The Dirt All At Once has a guitarist (Davd Lees) and a drummer (Joe Forrester). Davd and Joe refer to themselves as a ‘heavy minimal duo’. I predicted that I was in for something unique.
Beginning with the longest song of VIRE, “They Burnt My Car” is a six and a half minute ride that kicks off with a sense of alarm before hitting us with grooving riffs and a growing atmosphere of sound belying the fact that this is in fact a two piece. Vibing as leering and horrifying at moments, with raw squeals and guitar noise, the track takes us into a pensive downward fall into a state of uncomfortable realisation. Rhythmic squeals paint the song’s landscape like lightning bolts illuminating the night’s sky, and menacing circular riffs with drum blasts craft an uneasiness.
The track marches brashly and boldly forwards, building tension and chaos, with distant vocalisations in amongst the noise (and flames). We’re held on edge by a long-held squeal before dropping into a stretching and bouncing guitar adventure, where twanging and stretching riffs on a loop couple with uneasy and rhythmic steadiness. Later I found out from Joe that the song relates to the fact in real life that his car was stolen and burnt “and that has been quite inconvenient for the band”.
Moving on to second track “Bomb It Up, Boy”, I’m already thinking ‘What don’t I know here??’ with curiosity gathering about the inspiration behind these tracks and sensing that I wasn’t getting a full picture. In contrast to the previous track on VIRE, there’s a stagnance and an easy pace to “Bomb It Up, Boy”, almost feeling unusual in how little is happening on the track, and yet it’s not uncomfortable or boring to sit with these riffs rolling out like a tank. And then, maybe with that title, it’s supposed to be exactly tank-like, and not a colourfully painted piece of music?
Showing ever more of a quirky flair for song titles, “I Used To See Japanese Doom Bands At Pony” has more of a skipping upbeat vibe with a sense of reminiscing and homecoming. I couldn’t help but feel that this track would have been a cool one to have vocals painting more of the reminiscing story. With Snow Patrol‘s Gary Lightbody’s style of vocal warmth, possibly. Echoing and trembling rhythmic interludes sit pointedly amongst an anthemic and noise-laden sound. With this third track, I’m drawn to the melody which hangs under the noise enough at times that it seems to draw everything together to the ear, just by looking for it.
Again I’m wondering about meaning behind the song when it comes to fourth track “Funnigan’s Irish Bar”. Curiosity got the better of me at this point and I fired off an email to All Of The Dirt All At Once. Listening for a stereotypical Irish bar flavour, but hearing an eclectic vibe that amps up into something blistering and intense, I wondered whether the patrons of the bar were brawling instead of having a good time. Stuttering and stumbling yet fierce, a distorted guitar breakout crashes into a ‘wow’ riff that’s alluring and defensive at the same time.
My mid-review question to the band:
“So, I’m pretty visual with my music absorbing, as well as being exceptionally curious. So every single question I have so far relates to “I wonder where the hell they got this song title from and what were they trying to express with this?”. Do you feel like spilling some goss about the intentions behind the music?”
Unbeknownst to me, this would unlock some very cool insight behind both the connection of the duo, how they work, and how they seemingly constantly create. Joe shared that the imagined visual elements are ‘the most interesting stuff about the band’, acknowledging that they too operate in a way that incorporates vibe and visual imaginings a lot themselves.
The band began with Joe and Davd feeling like they weren’t being creative enough in their lives. In Joe’s words: “We’d played in various bands in our high school years and when that all got too difficult or whatnot had let the band-ball drop a bit. We still played music but Davd was being a bit ambient-computer-solo-ey and I was being folk acoustic solo-ey. But yeah we got excited for loud drums and riffs again so quickly got together and honestly our first track was written verbally at a pub. By the time we had our first jam we pretty much had our sound and style (even though it might have varied a bit across the three albums).”
With a distinct band name, Joe took us into the duo’s conversation by describing the experience as it happened. “It was kind of us going for a few minutes “it sounds like….. dirt….. all of the dirt… all at once”. We initially thought it was a stupid band name then were like ‘well that’s the best we have and what it sounds like’ so too bad.” It’s not just a band name though, it seems, with Davd and Joe taking that decision and running with it as far as it will go, creatively, establishing an identity where they are ‘Dirt Merchants’ that come from ‘Dirt Town’. And as much as Joe shared this along with a disclaimer of “oh god this is so embarrassing”, I think it’s pretty fucking cool to be so all-in with your art.
I learned that the albums of All Of The Dirt All At Once are adventures that the Dirt Merchants go on, with the song titles documenting the experiences, suddenly bringing a whole other dimension to what is ‘just a guitarist and a drummer’ in physicality. On VIRE, Joe shares “For this album, we were returning to Dirt Town from a trip to Mars, however all has changed in the town. There was a guy called Funnigan who had taken everything over and started a pub. He also drove the first car which was very annoying and we’ve quietly sampled him honking his horn in that song.” Suddenly explaining the tension instead of pub festivity easiness, Joe confirms that the song is about the Dirt Merchants trying to “take the town back from Funnigan. We used to run the town, man.”
Taking this extra dimension of information, we move on to “Don’t Push Anyone In The River”. With a chugging pace at first, the steady drums and drawing chords seemed to pull the listener into a downward stepping seriousness along with a cinematic sense of possibility. A wall-of-sound build-up showing up regularly felt like a ‘chorus’ of sorts in amongst the chugging progression, feeling emotive and heart-poking in its building, shifting, and brashness of sound. As the track comes to a close, there’s pockets of more alarming and twanging accents in amongst the thunderousness.
With a title like “Fuckin’ Hell (I’m A Banana)”, you know there’s a story behind the sixth track, which is an impressive piece of guitar worship where unflashy and fairly monotonous riffs just sound damn good. Solid and unquestioning, it’s not what I’d describe as an ‘interesting’ piece of music, but I’m spellbound by how something that seems so basic in terms of chords could result in something that carries a substance to it. Joe explains that the name was inspired by the fact that Davd likes the air really cool in the band room. “But he went too far, and I said something about feeling like I’m in a fridge. And somehow something about whether or not people put bananas in fridges came up and we decided they do not, so the idea of being a banana cracked us up plus was just kinda what felt right for the song.”
You can kind of get the impression that the two have formed some strongly bonded hive mind of creative wordplay as well as making music together, and Joe affirms this by saying “The best way I can describe our track titles is that Davd and I have kind of our own connection and in some ways ‘language’ and preferences. It boils down to anything: How often people use the internet, what people are doing on there, whether or not people are too hyped about Game of Thrones… we just kind of largely agree and understand each other. We’ve been acquaintances for about 18 years. But we don’t fall back on ‘old tropes’; the Dirt band is a process of discovery for both of us. Whenever we make an album we’re kind of like ‘Well, I guess that’s the dirt we pulled out of the barrel this time’ and again too bad if we don’t like it (but we do).”
“The Lone Pone” takes us into a deathly slow sea of distorted noise and twanging riffs. With the band’s bio describing it as sound-setting for a 1950s dramatic western, it conjures sandswept distortion and squinting eyes staring across the shimmering heat of a stand-off. But it’s more sad than tension heavy. The Dirt Brothers shared that the full unreleased track name is “Sheriff Westington and The Lone Pone in Pone Without A Home”, and that it’s “just a sad story about the Sheriff in the town who got shot”, adding that Davd thinks the sheriff had one arm and Joe does not, “either way it had something to do with him getting shot and his pony that was left behind”.
With a upward kick of pace, metallic fierceness and a relentless menacing vibe, “Black Dirt” brings fat riffs and blastbeat hecticness in this 1:39 track. Bending accents and crashes work well, but in my head I hear high death metalesque screams and growls, and wonder if there’s space left here to be filled by a vocalist. Joe responds to my curiosity about this, saying that “yes, we’re definitely instrumental and always will be. At least that’s the plan. In all honestly, this album became much more complicated than we would have ever intended so maybe the emphasis on being minimal got kinda screwed over. But that’s what can happen when you’re reaching deep into a barrel for dirt leftovers.”
Ninth track “Filler” could just be.. filler? Regardless of the intention, it’s a bouncing and driving track where droning meets angular twangs before a last gasp of effort.
“I’m Just Gonna Go Take A Look Over Here” is far more casually titled than its sound reveals. With pressuresome and tense riffs, a clear ‘something’s going to happen’ vibe is soon established over the nearly two minute duration. Curiosity is painted by the anticipation and guitar squeals and thuds, making it easy to visualise this as a soundtrack to a scene where the actor wonders what exactly is in the box.
With a longer duration, the final track of the album “I Keep Coming Up Every Horizon” is a fitting bookend to where we began on VIRE. Steadily unfolding and marching by way of rhythms and riffs, the track feels like an ode to persistence. Picking up into a more intense pace at times, like running forward instead of a march, the persistence vibe is given flare and freedom. With a determined and erratic last effort, this scooping of dirt has now been sifted through.
This was… nothing at all what I expected when I began the review. I honestly just liked the riffs, and as I progressed through the album, I pulled at a thread of curiosity and it unraveled into something far more interesting than just two guys jamming together. There’s a literally and figuratively an unspoken force of creativity that drives All Of The Dirt All At Once, with the tracks being a glimpse into a whole other world. I’m in full agreement and appreciation of Joe’s words about the band, “we are really just expressing ourselves, to each other, and letting you guys take a peek.” Davd and Joe manage to keep curiosity and interest high, and draw in a playful sense of creativity while also making seriously good music.
VIRE is out on 24th August on all major streaming and download services (iTunes, Apple Music, Spotify, Bandcamp). Back the creatives!
Some of the more 'inside joke/story' tracks where meanings aren't as obvious may be hard for a listener to appreciate if their lens of listening is just through what the instruments are doing, such as the really steady and monotonous pieces. It might also be tough to have these songs get stuck in peoples' heads as specific tracks.
Multi-leveled creativity in action, where the listener is given a seat in a Joe & Davd jam session where anything is possible. These songs are the result of inspiration being fully embraced and enjoyed and as a result carry a substance to them that goes beyond the chord choices or rhythms. There's stories wrapped up in each track that the listener can use for their own pleasure.