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Further Deeper Reviews Part 1 Print E-mail
Sunday, 26 October 2014

I'm assembling this collection long after the album was released, so it seems easiest to group them together into chunks.

Pitchfork - - by T.Cole Rachel (rating 8 out of 10)

The Australian band the Church, best known in the States for their "120 Minutes"-era college rock, have been together for 35 years. The sprawling Further/Deeper, their 21st proper release, finds them playing around with the tropes that have been the hallmarks of their career.

The Church inhabit a peculiar place in the minds of most American music lovers. The Australian band have been together for a whopping 35 years and their latest album—the sprawling Further/Deeper—is their 21st proper full-length release. While back home in Australia they are rightly respected as titans, here in the States their legacy is tied forever to "120 Minutes"-era college rock (specifically 1988’s eternal mix tape staple "Under the Milky Way") and for the uninitiated they presented a back catalog so long and dense as to feel a little impenetrable.

While it seems unlikely that Further/Deeper will do much to change the band’s Stateside legacy, it certainly doesn’t do anything to diminish it. The 12 tracks here deliver the same kind of languid psychedelia and pillowy atmospherics that have been a hallmark of Church albums for most of the latter half of their career. "Love Philtre" and "Volkano" are the band’s stock in trade—prolonged bits of mysticism narrated by frontman Steve Kilbey’s wry vocals. "If you touch us we disappear/ If you are waiting we are never here" he sings on "Let Us Go"—a track that, quite literally, could have appeared on any number of Church albums released in the last decade.

This isn’t necessarily a slight to the band, who have consistently delivered this kind of shimmery alt-pop for decades now, but this kind of psychedelic sameness grows tiresome after a while. Longtime fans will note the departure of longtime guitarist Marty Willson-Piper (replaced here by Powderfinger’s Ian Haug) as denoting a shift in the band’s sound, but anyone but a hardcore devotee would likely be hard pressed to discern any radical difference. Occasionally the guitars rip and roar ("Lightning White", "Toy Head"), but mostly they jangle and drift through these songs like smoke...another defining characteristic of the band’s back catalog.


It seems unfair to expect radical reinvention from a band like the Church—a shape-shifting outfit that has spent the better part of three decades more or less circling the same singular vibe. A discography 21 albums deep evidences the kind of career that few bands ever get to experience, but that kind of back catalog can also be stifling. More than five years since their last album, 2009's Untitled #23, Further finds the band trying (in baby steps) to play around with the tropes that have been the hallmarks of their career.


Historically, some of the band’s best songs ("Metropolis", "Ripple") have married druggy atmospherics with an airtight pop sensibility. If Further/Deeper fails on any front it’s that the single-appropriate pop moments feel too blandly adult contemporary (no one ever needs to write another song called "Laurel Canyon") and the record’s most grandly ambitious song—the epic eight-and-a-half-minute album closer—is, somewhat inexplicably, an ode to Miami. That being said, Further/Deeper is hardly a misstep—it’s a perfectly lovely addition to the band’s canon—but it’s not the kind of record that's going to usher in a new era or mesmerize people who haven’t already been blissed out on this band for decades.


Pop Matters - - Rob Caldwell, Oct 2014

It’s next to impossible to write about the Church without mentioning “Under the Milky Way”. It’s the convenient touchstone by which to reference the band – the song most people are likely to know. I’m as guilty as any, having written an article on the song. At this point, if the band and the fans aren’t sick of the song, they’re probably sick of reading about it.


In actuality, that tune is but one small part of what the Church is all about, and that’s never been more evident than on their new multi-faceted Further/Deeper. The 25th (depending how you count them) album from Australia’s purveyors of the psychedelic and melodic, it also finds them with a new guitarist, Ian Haug (late of Powderfinger) replacing original member Marty Willson-Piper, who reportedly didn’t respond to band requests to record new material.


The twin lead guitars of Peter Koppes and Haug (like Koppes and Willson-Piper before) complement and build on each other, interweaving to the point where it’s often difficult to tell where one ends and the other begins. It’s a testament to Haug’s skills and the adaptability of the band that, despite the personnel shakeup, the musical interplay still sounds so natural. That grand, lush, refined yet spirited sound the Church is known for remains.


Never a band short on material, an abundance of songs were recorded for this outing (including 3 bonus tracks on the vinyl version.)  Lead single “Pride Before a Fall” finds them further exploring a similar landscape to previous album’s “Pangea”. Vocalist/songwriter/bassist Steve Kilbey sings in a higher register than usual in parts of the track, and the song also has an undulating, underwater feel, complete with whale-like sound effects. The sea has always figured in the Church and Kilbey’s solo work, and the rest of Further/Deeper is no different. From references to water, sea, and ocean in many of the lyrics to the burbly “Marine Drive”, it remains an evocative reference point.


This is not background music – it demands your attention. Along with the oft-surreal lyrics, there’s a lot of care put into the sonic details. There’s the backwards guitar in “Lightning White” and the bass growl in “Let Us Go”, plus things you may not hear unless you’re listening with headphones, like the whispered vocal tracks overlaid on top of the singing on sections of “Old Coast Road” and “Love Philtre”.


That track, “Love Philtre” (a very Kilbey-esque title from the word-loving songwriter), is a highlight marked by an unusual shifting of gears halfway through the song, when the mid-tempo cut is suddenly interrupted by a strummed acoustic guitar which strolls in from nowhere, only to be displaced by an angelic voice from on high singing wordless vocals, before the song slides back in.


Though the overall feel of the album has been called dark by some, that’s not my take. There’s an air of night and mystery, sure - and songs like “Vanishing Man” aren’t jaunty by any means - but for every ominous “Toy Head”, there’s a sparkling sunbeam of a song like “Laurel Canyon”, with its acoustic jangle that recalls old Church songs like “A Month of Sundays” and “10,000 Miles”.


Further/Deeper closes with the nearly nine-minute “Miami”, a track whose beginning guitar pattern echoes 1988’s “Destination”.  In looking back to that high water mark time of the band’s popularity, they (whether consciously or not) bring the album back around to link with the past, reminding us and themselves of where they’ve come from before taking us in a new, modern direction—to a new destination, in effect.  It’s a track and an album that moves onward and upward, further and deeper—a journey begun a long time ago in a 1980s galaxy far, far away.


Rolling Stone Australia - 4 stars - Jeff Apter

Jangly vets change line-up but maintain that certain something quite peculiar.


At a time when bands of a certain vintage are looking for their place in the sun, dream-weaving perennials the Church are busier than ever. There’s been a recent keynote appearance at Brisbane’s BigSound gabfest, a long-overdue memoir from main man Steve Kilbey (entitled, not surprisingly, Something Quite Peculiar) and now Further/Deeper, the band’s 25th long-player. 


The lead single, the haunting, slowburning “Pride Before a Fall”, typifies the Church circa 2014 much the same way “Metropolis” did in 1990 or “Almost With You” several years before that. Much of Further/Deeper, in fact, resembles the soundtrack to a road movie screening inside Kilbey’s mind – especially the spectral beauty of “Laurel Canyon”, which plays like the best acid flashback you’ve ever had. There’s more power here than recent Church efforts, thanks in part to the recruitment of Powderfinger shredder Ian Haug, in for Marty Willson-Piper. (More songs, too, but editing’s never been Kilbey’s strongest suit.) Perhaps Haug’s hiring has inspired Kilbey to broaden his range, just a little – where else in the band’s lengthy back pages would you hear a word like “snorkel”, which Kilbey casually inserts during a song (“Marine Drive”) that sounds as though it was recorded underwater.


Despite these changes, that distinctively Church-like aura, built around spiralling guitars, Kilbey’s somnambulistic vocals and a sense of mystery and intrigue, will never grow old, even 25 albums in. Long may they strum.

Echoes and Dust -

Sinister bastard / Your casket groans from sins…”

As opening lines on an album go, it’s both quite a statement of intent and determinedly individualistic. The Church must have wondered if the knives would be out when Further/Deeper was released, its genesis informed at least in part by the departure of long-serving guitarist Marty Willson-Piper. A much-admired member of the band, and along with vocalist/bassist Steve Kilbey the member most responsible for nursing the band through its lowest ebbs since its inception at the fag-end of the ’70s, Willson-Piper’s playing and writing was such a large part of the band’s latter-day material that news of his departure led to a great deal of garment-rending on the behalf of The Church’s fans. Whilst noting his regret at announcing Willson-Piper’s departure, Kilbey seemed bullish and entirely confident in the band’s ability to deliver “a classic Church record”, even feeling strongly enough to give it the working title of “The Dark Side of Abbey Road” at one point. Willson-Piper’s place was taken by Powderfinger’s Ian Haug – apparently a lifelong fan of the band himself. No-one knew quite what to expect from the band – would it be very different? Would it be business as usual? Perhaps astonishingly, Kilbey’s confidence has not proved to be misplaced.

The first track, ‘Vanishing Man’, is the perfect opening salvo: from the bent, wailing guitar lines that open it, to the muscular shuffle and elegaic guitar line that drives it, Kilbey’s barbed lyrics, the psychedelic chaos of the bridge – an effects pedal bonanza where fretboards are scraped in a frenzy – and the slow disintegration of the song into its constituent parts, that fall away from each other and go tumbling into an echoing void. It is, quite simply, classic Church. What’s astonishing is that at this early point, even the most cynical and concerned of Church fans, worried that Willson-Piper’s departure would destroy the band’s magical synergy, will find themselves grinning in delight and wondering if they were worried for no good cause. Clearly Haug fits the band like a glove – indeed his playing sounds uncannily like Willson-Piper’s at times, Willson-Piper’s own influence on Haug becoming its own reward, perhaps. Haug’s quiet belief and assured performance is evident early on, but its the faultless way he complements the whole that is crucial.


Happily, the album does nothing to cause any initial doubts to resurface over it’s hour-plus running time. ‘Delirious’ follows, and builds from a spacey intro – woozily shot through with other guitarist Peter Koppes’ electric-guitar-as synthesiser figures – into a stamping, anthemic treat, possessed of a febrile and frantic energy that will be instantly familiar to listeners that fell under the band’s spell after hearing records like The Blurred Crusade and Heyday. That they manage this whilst retaining the hazy, psychedelic swirl that they have developed and honed in that intervening time is only one of the many impressive things about this record. ‘Pride Before A Fall’ falls squarely into that unhurried, introspective territory; yet in classic Church style it is immediately followed by the decidedly spooky ‘Toy Head’, a voyage into progressive rock territory that welds nightmare imagery to sudden peaks and troughs in the music in a manner that will melt the marrow in your bones. A short, melodic guitar solo dispels the darkness, before, as Kilbey intones, “the horrors return” and the song collapses into a spinning black hole of heavy reverb, all shuddering guitar and chaotic drumming. Incredibly striking, it’s also utterly chilling. Stunned, the listener is thrown for a further loop by ‘Laurel Canyon’, which is a sun-dappled delight, all folksy Byrdsian jangle, its sweetly cooed backing vocals immersed beneath a warmly nostalgic Kilbey tale of good times and romance from yesteryear that is almost unbearably poignant placed next to the cosmic horrors that preceded it. This willingness to inhabit the space between the light and the dark have always served The Church incredibly well. They embrace both extremes to devastating effect.

Further/Deeper is astonishingly well sequenced, too, always the hallmark of an album that’s had real attention to detail lavished on it. As the chilling darkness of ‘Toy Head’ is leavened by the summery warmth of ‘Laurel Canyon’, so the mournful, spacey ‘Love Philtre’ leads into the baleful ‘Globe Spinning’ which comes across as the bastard child of Floyd’s ‘One Of These Days’ genetically grafted into vintage 1970s Hawkwind, its thrumming, supercharged bass augmented to thrilling effect by some of drummer Tim Powles’ most perfectly executed drumming. It has unbelievable momentum, and leaves the listener with an incredible sense of vertigo three-quarters of the way in, where the rhythm section stop dead and then thunder back in. The Church have rarely lacked for confidence, but here they sound positively imperious. At about this point in listening, you realise that you’re only just over halfway through the record. It’s hard not to marvel at the band’s relentlessly inventive muse.

Incredibly, the band do not run out of steam. ‘Old Coast Road’ is another warmly nostalgic ballad in classic Church mode, with a gorgeous extended instrumental coda, whilst ‘Lightning White’ and ‘Volkano’ both feel as though they rose direct from the band jamming in the studio: looser and built carefully around repeating, steadily building figures, they give Kilbey full rein to indulge his lyrical flights of fancy as he gleefully builds upon themes, and links them unexpectedly to others before discarding them and setting off on wild tangents. Kilbey’s always been a formidable lyricist, but he too sounds reinvigorated, rejuvenated. He is clearly taking delight in the band’s most recent renaissance – indeed towards the end of ‘Lightning White’ his vocals vibrate as if he is jiggling with unrestrained excitement and delight at the sonic edifices the band are building around him. The joy the band express through these new songs is utterly contagious; long term fans may well find themselves giggling with delight, whilst new listeners will delight in every unexpected change of pace and mood.

An eerie tension pervades the slow, inexorable build of ‘Let Us Go’, it’s menacing verses building in tension before the choruses provide a glorious euphoric release. Yet it’s the jammed-out storytelling of ‘Volkano’ that, for all its mystical imagery, comes perhaps closest to a mission statement for the re-energised band: “We never anticipated anything that happens,” ponders Kilbey, “And all of these waves, all of this sound / Wherever we go it was by our lucky fingers and our honour bound.”

Then, finally, there is ‘Miami’. The Church’s album closers are often slow-burners, and so it proves once again, as its tentative guitar lines shimmer into existence seemingly out of nowhere and build into a haze of beautiful remorse as Kilbey delivers an achingly regretful, yet hopeful lyric that ends the record on an oddly triumphal, bittersweet note that you may never want to end. Such is this band’s genius.

Against all the odds, then, Further/Deeper is perhaps one of the band’s finest albums; entirely thrilling and involving from beginning to end, even with a generous running time, it’s a stunning piece of work. It seems entirely unfeasible that after over 34 years, and following the departure of one of its best-loved members, The Church has come back with such an astonishing record, but then men and the stars in the sky have long since given up trying to predict what will happen next when it comes to this band. Fans and devotees have long known to expect the unexpected; apparently the only thing we can be sure of is that the band will always have more surprises and delights up their sleeves and the rest is merely a question of our patience, and that undying fondness that has kept this most cult of cult bands alive and well long after most of their contemporaries have given up the ghost. The Church is dead, long live The Church. Here’s to the next chapter in one of the music world’s most fascinating and unpredictable stories.



Volt and Volume (dead site, text retrieved from google archive)
In late 2013, the Australian Alternative Rock band’s lead singer, bassist and lyricist, Steve Kilbey, made a public statement that, regrettably, guitarist/founding member Marty Willson-Piper was ”unavailable” for the recording of the next Church album. That Kilbey intended to continue using the name The Church instigated some rather harsh outbursts from certain longtime fans, who insisted that without Marty Willson-Piper the band wasn’t really The Church.
However, what these disappointed fans seemed to forget (or purposely disregard out of sheer frustration?) was the fact that, when guitarist Peter Koppes left the band in the early ‘90s, the remaining members Steve Kilbey and Marty Willson-Piper still chose to credit the album Sometime Anywhere (1994) to The Church. As Kilbey pointed out: “The name ‘The Church’ is mine. I called it that two years before I even met Marty…”. Upon which he acknowledged the contributions of the other long-standing band members: “We have all built up a body of work under the name The Church. We will not cast that aside because one guy does not show up.” Declaring Marty Willson-Piper “unavailable” (he didn’t respond to anyone’s emails or phone calls), Steve Kilbey also announced that ex-Powderfinger guitarist Ian Haug (himself a longtime Church fan) had joined the recording sessions for the next Church album, which was to be titled Further/Deeper. While it’s always sad to see a founding band member leave, it also marked an interesting new chapter in the history of the band: What would Ian Haug contribute to the sound of The Church? Could he possibly live up to the contributions of Marty Willson-Piper?
At the time of the announcement The Church had already been in the studio, and Steve Kilbey’s excitement about the new material was palpable. Kilbey: “I am sitting here right now with 16 new incredible songs that we just wrote. It’s frustrating that it will be a while till you hear it. But The Church will ride on…The Church will prevail. And our new music is very, very fucking cool.” And that’s an understatement rather than an exaggeration. Imagining that any longtime, open-minded fan would not be completely enamored by Further/Deeper is unthinkable, that’s how impressive this album sounds in every aspect, whether it be the songwriting, arrangements, musicianship, and creativity. What’s more, Further/Deeper is drummer, percussionist, producer, engineer, and mixer Tim Powles’ most accomplished work yet: the meticulous, exemplary production sounds bigger, fuller, and punchier than it has in ages (since 1998’s Hologram Of Baal), adding a more rough edge and a raw power that brings out the best in each and every one of these exceptional songs.
At this point in The Church’s career, they have nothing whatsoever left to prove, but that’s not to say that they’re not going to do their damnedest to prove the doubters wrong and put their detractors to shame. In an interview, Kilbey said that “Ian Haug brought in an extraordinarily naive enthusiasm, which re-energized the band”, and this energy and electricity permeates Further/Deeper from start to finish. The ominous opening track, Vanishing Man, is the sound of The Church soldiering on in the face of adversity, into the future, into uncharted territory, powered by an electric storm of abrasive, distorted, reverb-drenched electric guitars. Proud, defiant and triumphant, it blows all negative preconceptions to smithereens, leaving all competition in its wake, and sets the stage for what’s to come. This state of euphoria continues with the downright ecstatic Delirious, which is amplified by an insistent drumbeat and a chaotic, spiraling whirlwind of ringing electric guitars; stirring and exhilarating, it literally leaves you breathless.
Pride Before A Fall (the first single) is a characteristically atmospheric and intricate Psychedelic ballad that testifies to the band’s admirable attention to detail: sonic textures, layers of sound, instrumental arrangements; it’s all there in the dreamlike, hypnotic verses and the surging chorus that washes over you like a wave. The dramatic and macabre Toy Head instantly grabs your attention and triggers the imagination, as Kilbey sings: “When you take off your head / But the darkness prevails / And they loosen the screws / But that remedy fails”. The nightmarish lyrics about “a monster being born”, “shadows increasing” and “horrors returning” are further intensified by the haunting music, most notably Ian Haug’s eerie, drone-like guitar passage.
Laurel Canyon has single written all over it; or rather, it’s undoubtedly The Church’s best shot at getting some radio airplay that might possibly attract new fans and boost the band’s album sales. As befits its title, the song sounds warm and summery, with its chiming acoustic and electric guitars, and its catchy, little hooks and charming sing-along chorus; at closer inspection, though, its sunny disposition is offset by its words of regret. A deeply gifted lyricist, Kilbey once again demonstrates that he has a way with wordplay and a penchant for contrasts and contradictions: “Less is more / Much more to confess”. This sparkling little gem brings to mind the “Pop” sensibilities of the band’s early/mid-‘80s songs, only more subtle and sophisticated. Listening to the equally melodic and sepia-tinted Old Coast Road is like looking at sunrays reflecting on water's shimmering surface; it fills you with those elusive feelings of warmth and tranquility.
The autumnal Love Philtre is lovely, positively irresistible. Almost an anomaly in the band’s catalogue, it’s unusually pretty and pensive for a Church song (as was Pangea), with its crystal clear keyboard/piano motif and wistful atmosphere. Halfway through, the track unexpectedly morphs into a slow, languid passage of gently strummed acoustic guitar and an ethereal, angelic female harmony; upon which it suddenly resumes its main melody. Likewise, the forceful and foreboding Globe Spinning is also unlike any other song The Church have ever recorded, albeit at the other end of the musical spectrum. Driven by throbbing bass, dynamic drums and seething synth lines, it oozes eccentricity and intensity.
Lightning White kicks off with thundering drums, the heaviest-sounding percussion heard on a Church album since 1988’s Starfish, but, fortunately, without the pitfalls of overblown ‘80s production values. They say lightening never strikes twice in the same place, but it does, repeatedly, throughout this song, that’s how electrifying and powerful it sounds. The bombastic and über-cool Let Us Go sounds unstoppable; as if every naysayer, who stands in its way, is doomed to be trampled underfoot by its mercilessly pounding drumbeat, assertive electric guitars, and ice-cold, sustained synth. An aura of weightlessness surrounds the gorgeously breezy and buoyant Volkano. Ambient, celestial synth, twinkling guitar sound effects and spacey, echo-laden vocals transport you to another place, arousing mental images of floating among stars in outer space, exploring a world of otherworldly wonders.
The majority of all Church albums open with a particularly noteworthy track and Further/Deeper is no exception. Yet, this time around the band actually saved the biggest and best song for last: the cinematic Miami. A nearly 9-minute long composition of epic proportions, it’s the aural equivalent of a widescreen movie. After the Hotel Womb-esque guitar intro, it settles into a mid-tempo mode only sporadically interrupted by the heartfelt crescendos. Infused with vigorous jingle-jangle/drone-like guitars, pulsating bass, and a soaring harmonica solo, this mesmerizing track is an instant Church classic.
Further/Deeper is The Church’s 25th album (including various EPs), and it’s simply awe-inspiring. Even though it defies all logic, the band sounds as vibrant, adventurous, courageous and vital as ever, regardless of line-up. Further/Deeper is so rich with sonic details that there’s more here than meets the ear on first listen; even several spins will barely scratch the surface of these lush, multi-layered soundscapes. If you are among the fans who lost faith in The Church due to Marty Willson-Piper’s absence, then listen. And then listen again. And then rejoice. Fall down on your knees at the altar of The Church to say a prayer of gratitude: they are still more than worthy of our worship. Over the years, The Church have attracted a cultish following, and most of us will continue to follow the band on their musical journey -– further, deeper.
Last Updated ( Sunday, 26 March 2017 )
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