Admit it. You’ve totally neglected the Church‘s post-Arista records output, and the fact that they’re closing in on nearly two dozen records surprises you. I’m not sure what prompts a band to stay together as long as the Church, but I do know their chemistry is as such that they probably haven’t released a bad record in all that time, and with their most recent—Untitled #23—they sound even better than just being consistent. Indeed, it’s an album that finds them curiously inspired, exploring the nether regions of seductive guitar textures and layers of high-altitude chill.
Above everything is Steve Kilbey’s unmistakable voice—slight, comforting, and eerily ageless. What’s curious is how his understated delivery belies a pretty capable lyricist. As a matter of fact, nearly everything about Untitled #23 is understated, and it’s easy to let its greatness get overlooked.
Yes, it’s a grower. And with each spin you move a little more towards the heaven that these purveyors of psychedelia keep reaching for.
On “Space Savior,” Kilbey actually allows his voice to break a bit. The thing only utilizes two chords for over six minutes, yet the band’s repetitiveness is almost trance-like, with Steve spewing out stream-of-consciousness, only giving us the line “And I gotta get up! And I gotta get off!” to serve as a makeshift chorus.
The lead-off single “Pangaea” is as least as dreamy and infectious as the band’s most famous song “Under The Milky Way,” but it’s also clear that The Church hasn’t been spending the time since then wallowing in nostalgia, trying to recreate the same song. While the voice may not be demonstrating the ravishes of time, his words are now born from life experiences. Gone are those dreamy layers of love’s optimism. They now have hints of regret and mistrust while still remaining as aurally infectious as ever.
The album’s defining moment may be “Anchorage” which may explain why the band continues to dish out record after record, more recently in near anonymity. Through years of failed relationships, declining record sales, and a fickle public, The Church has found common ground and reliable kinship with each other. “Darkness / Returning / My torch keeps on burning” as it’s written in the track’s chorus, yet the band uses the spark of one another to light a path ahead.
It took twenty-two steps before Untitled #23 to get to this point, and the road to it was obviously filled with its share of up and downs, twists and turns. In the end though, it sounds like the band has come to turns with it and will continue to forge ahead with rewarding material regardless of how many of us check out where they’re at on the map.