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Sunday Herald gives Untitled #23 4 out of 5 Print E-mail
Sunday, 01 March 2009

A nice review from Graeme Hammond of the Sunday Herald


Religious Experience

Untitled #23 - The Church - 4/5

There's no second guessing the Church. Their first studio album in four years has no real title - though the "23" probably refers to its numerical place in their catalogue - and is released simultaneously with two EPs and another album described as "a long-playing ambient-literary hybrid in collaboration with American sci-fi writer Jeff VanderMeer"[SC: They mean the Shriek soundtrack.]

The band that has previously released songs titled Chromium, Disillusionist and Real Toggle Action delves into its presumably well-thumbed thesaurus for its new set list that inclues Happenstance, Operetta and Pangaea. Fabulous!

Literary pretension? Not a bit of it: The Church seem to inhabit their own world of introspection, from which emerge their brooding rainy-day songs that somehow combine lushness with sparseness, the lyrics often asking more questions than they answer.

Commercial success, let it be noted, is not one of this band's driving forces. When guitarist Marty Willson-Piper noted in a 2004 Sunday Herald Sun interview that "it's better to not be successful on your own terms than successful on someone else's terms" bandmate Steve Kilbey shot back, "And we're very unsuccessful on our own terms".

Yet this is the album that ought to bring the old fans back. Building on the strengths of their previous album of original material, 2005's Uninvited Like The Clouds, Untitled #23 is powerful and absorbing, free of past tendencies to let the songs hang on mood rather than substance.

There is no shortage of variety either: Cobalt Blue is a gentle opener, one of many tender beauties, Deadman's Hand is a slow-burner, while the powerful Space Saviour is an explosive piece of pent-up energy riding on some heavy percussion. Operetta is a majestic finale for the album, a comedown after the drama and emotion before it.

The tragic Angel Street, in contrast, is superb minimalism, almost a spoken-word piece in which Kilbey delivers heart-rending lines of emptiness, pleading: "You should change the mesage on your machine, So sad so strange,baby, to hear my name, Makes me cry when you say we're not at home. And the lines goes dead and the trail goes cold."

Happenstance drips with romanticism, its lyrics echoing with Old Testament poetry of swelling fruits and snow-fed rivers. 

Everything is played out in glorious slow motion, many of the songs unwinding over five or six minutes.

It's a weird paradox from a band that has so strongly accepted their lack of connection with popular taste: in their efforts to be one Australia's most understated bands, discarding even the conventions of album names, they may have come up with one of their best efforts yet.

Graeme Hammond.

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