Dirty Three's Horse Stories was the best record of 1996, bar none: Nothing that year came close to capturing the album's emotional breadth and beauty, and no song was as powerful as Horse Stories' "Sue's Last Ride," which built from a beautiful, weeping melody into a raging, explosive, hair-raising climaxwhich in turn continued to incorporate the same beautiful, weeping melody. An instrumental trio formed in Melbourne, Dirty Three is built on little more than Warren Ellis' remarkably expressive violin, Mick Turner's understated guitar lines, Jim White's strangely arrhythmic (but never inappropriate) drum work, and an occasional piano. And though it lacks the staggering emotional peaks found on its predecessor, the group's new Ocean Songs is another sprawling masterpiece: Steve Albini's production keeps its 10 songs sounding quieter and less bombastic than fans will expect, but that restraint allows Dirty Three to find a surprising degree of instrumental balance. If Horse Stories seemed at first like something of a violin tour de force, the 67-minute Ocean Songs gives the band's three members equal and ample time, and the album is full of wonderful, breathtaking epics like "Last Horse On The Sand," "Black Tide," "Sea Above, Sky Below" and the 10-minute, appropriately titled "Authentic Celestial Music." Ocean Songs complements its predecessor perfectly: Its virtues aren't as immediate, and its arrangements are far more subtle, but the deliriously beautiful payoff makes it just as essential.