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Pitchfork give Untitled #23 a 7 Print E-mail
Thursday, 28 May 2009

Pitchfork's Joe Tangari gave the album a good review; I thought it was interesting that the list of most read reviews on the original website had "Busdriver" at #14. Fans will know that the was the title of the b-side of The Church's first hit single, "The Unguarded Moment" back in 1981 :)

Originally published at http://pitchfork.com/reviews/albums/13062-untitled-23/

Next year, the Church will be thirty years old. The Sydney, Australia, quartet is among the longest-lived, most prolific bands of the last three decades, but in North America, they're pretty much known as a one-hit wonder for 1988's haunted, atmospheric single "Under the Milky Way". It's really not fair because, apart from the late 1990s, they've been consistently good, and LPs like Séance, Priest = Aura, and Heyday deserve to be heard in their entirety. The band regained its bearings early this decade, and 2006's Uninvited, Like the Clouds ranks among their finest albums. Untitled #23, their ironically titled 23rd album (following their Australian discography, that is), isn't quite on that level, but it's still very good.

The primary thing Uninvited had that Untitled doesn't is a big, sweeping single like the former's swirling centerpiece, "Unified Field". But while it may lack an immediately gratifying standout, Untitled #23 is a satisfying album, the kind of record that makes a big catalogue richer and more fun to explore. While it shares some similarities with the band's blissed-out late-80s/early-90s output, Untitled represents a distinct place in the band's career, with slow tempos, languid vocal melodies, and a bigger focus on keyboards than the interplay of Marty Willson Piper and Peter Koppes' guitars. Drummer Tim Powles, with the band since 1994, keeps things basic, opening "Cobalt Blue" with a steady Bonham stomp and staying in the pocket from there. Meanwhile, bassist/vocalist Steve Kilbey is in fine form throughout-- his old-school sing-speak on closer "Operetta" momentarily fooled me into thinking it was Bowie doing a guest turn.

"Pangaea" seems an odd choice for a first single, with its spoken vocals and barely there chorus, and in spite of the backing vocals and violin that sweeten the song's texture, it's ultimately not very memorable. A more obvious choice might have been "Deadman's Hand", a guitar-soaked blast from the past, stuffed full of breathy harmonies, that seemingly glows from within. There are a few other moments of uncommon gorgeousness sprinkled across the album, none more shocking or brilliant than the jazz-tinged guitar solo on "Cobalt Blue", which starts off with a few completely counterintuitive phrases before tying them back into the melody and has a tone that matches the title of the song. The interstellar pound of "Space Saviour", the interlaced vocal lines of "Operetta", and the pulsing dirge "On Angel Street" all reveal a band still full of ideas and willing to pursue a risk.

One of the contributing factors to the band's recent resurrection may be that they've taken complete control of their music, handling their production duties and recording when and where they want to, free from the kind of manipulation and pressure record labels once exerted on them. The Church are still producing at a high level, and Untitled #23 is a must for anyone who's followed them this far.

— Joe Tangari, May 28, 2009

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