If you don't know the Church beyond the group's one mainstream hit, "Under the Milky Way Tonight, it's not likely you'll attribute any genuine jazz connotation to the 26-year-old quartet or its music. Yet even if you're familiar with the Church, it may not be readily apparent how its mysterious, almost mystical, collective creativity resembles the process of improvisationnever more so, perhaps, than on this album.
First of all, as usual, the material is all original, credited equally to the four members of the group. Not surprisingly, since the Australian veterans have now released two albums of nothing but free-form jams, the sessions that went to make up this new recording were both structured and open-ended, But the Church is nothing if not a completely self-sufficient unit, and the cinematic imagery of the opening "Block matches the musical dynamics.
And so begins an hour of dense, dramatic music where hooks like the one on "Unified Field ebb and flow. The sing-song quality of bassist Kilbey's heavily echoed vocal is counterpointed by equally sumptuous background harmonies, while the repeated descending guitar figure is as infectious as it is simple. The carefree nonchalance there contrasts the ominous air permeating "Space Needle, which in turns gives way to the ringing piano at the center of "Overview.
This is a welcome and timely change in texture from the heavy float of Peer Koppes and Marty Willson-Piper's electric guitars. As seasoned as they are, the members of the Church know just when to alter their sound. Nevertheless, the uninitiated may find the languorous mood that dominates this recording off-putting, especially as the single cello of Sophie Glasson appears all the way on the twelfth cut, "Song to Go. This cross between the Byrds and vintage Pink Floyd may be more than just an acquired taste.
But the quick clip of "Easy finds the quartet picking up the pace and adding an acoustic flavor that further lightens the mood. Again, though, what seems like an exquisite floating quality on "Pure Chance may come across as nothing more than turgid, notwithstanding the bright mass chorale of voices reminiscent of the Beach Boys (the Church worked the same trick on their last album, Forget Yourself, from 2004). The extended jousting of band and orchestra on "Never Before may come across as empty effect, rather than dramatic crescendo.
When Tim Powles joined the Church, he cemented a new group chemistry and brought production expertise that affords such clarity that pieces like "Real Toggle Action lend themselves easily to imaginative stereo effects. Unfortunately, the introspective, cryptic lyrics are not printed in the liner notes. But for all the disembodied air of Kilbey's singing, he communicates a true tenderness, especially on "Day 5, ultimately rendering Uninvited, Like the Clouds less impersonal than it may initially seem.
Block; Unified Field; Space Needle; Overview; Easy; She
Steve Kilbey: bass, lead and background vocals; Peer Koppes, Marty
Willson-Piper: guitars, vocals; Tim Powles: drums, percussion; David Lane: piano;
Jorden Brebach: guitar, background vocals; Sophie Glasson: cello.