The Church have made a 20-year career out of inhabiting
the hollows of rock’s landscape, being content to explore
the subtle interplay of lead guitarists Peter Koppes
and Marty Willson-Piper than chasing after current
musical trends. They are lush without being precious, complex
without being impenetrable. This is an elemental band--four
musicians who are all highly prolific in other projects, as
solo performers as well as producers, who seem to sense each
others’ strengths and quirks as much as their own breath;
four men able to evoke definite emotions from indefinite sonic
textures, and vice versa. This brings a special richness to
their music, a confidence and ease few bands can sustain as
long as the Church has.
After Everything Now This is the band’s first album
of original material since 1998’s Hologram Of Baal,
and first release since 1999’s Box of Birds, a collection
of covers ranging from Television to Neil Young,
Iggy Pop to Carole King. Yet while the aforementioned
records made nary a ripple outside of the band’s fervent fan
base, After Everything is a fluid, sensuous work capable
of recapturing the general public’s imagination. For those
willing to uncover its secrets, the reward is perhaps the
most cohesive, emotional Church record to date; an album brimming
with regret and bittersweet reflection, brilliantly produced
by drummer Tim Powles.
Released on its own teaser EP in December, "Numbers"
follows in the tradition of past opening tracks "Myrrh"
(Heyday), "Destination" (Starfish),
"Pharaoh" (Gold Afternoon Fix), and "Aura"
(Priest=Aura)–songs of grand scope, incorporating themes
of motion, travel, distress, discovery, and prophecy. This
is an unsettling, insidious song, the numerical motif–1
law for the officers, 1 for the gentlemen, 2 bad you 3 know
what it’s 4 –creating a systematic feeling of dread and
uncertainty, spiraling into a climactic chant that seems equal
parts warning and prayer. The last minute of the song is a
chaos of numerals, percussion, and a downright unhinged Come
on! from Steve Kilbey, whose vocal dubs are well-used
Truthfully, it is somewhat difficult placing "Numbers"
within the context of the album as "After Everything"
sways in with its 60s chamber-pop feel. From this point on,
the album establishes itself with a much lighter touch than
its immediate predecessors Magician Among The Spirits
and Hologram Of Baal, yet loses none of the emotional
punch. On the contrary, even the most devout Church fan would
be hard-pressed to name another song as deeply personal as
"After Everything". I really thought it would
go on forever Kilbey sings, and phrases of doubt anchor
the overall melancholy of this song in deep regret: I never
said, It seems so strange, I was never really
sure. Subdued percussion and light touches of piano and
viola (played by David Lane and Jane Seymour,
respectively) help to accentuate the song’s gorgeous guitar
line. "The Awful Ache" begins with a stuttering
electric guitar and sweeping violin, the chiming guitar on
the verses evoking an underwater feel, which is fully realized
on the bridge. Kilbey’s vocals are throaty, slightly strained,
perfectly capturing "the ache."
Vocals are a wonder on After Everything. Often, they
save the song from mediocrity, such as "Song For The
Asking", which seems to meander for its duration, but
backing vocals and grand piano add a depth that is not present
in the lyrics. Kilbey is often considered to be a cold, serviceable
singer, which does him a vast injustice as he is a master
at turning a phrase, inflecting layers of meaning with one
simple nuance. But After Everything showcases some
of his most passionate vocals to date, as if its personal
subject matter has given him confidence in his voice. As a
result, the album resonates with warmth and sincerity–no need
to lurk behind complicated metaphor.
"Reprieve" and "Night Friends" are where
Koppes and Willson-Piper truly step up and put their poetry
in motion, two guitar badasses who play with restraint, power,
and sheer eroticism. "Reprieve" in particular comes
on like a sly smile–When you sleep, you never know the
vigil I keep. Toss in a pulsating bass line and a guitar
solo that is pure Pink Floyd, and you have one of this
band’s most dynamic and stunning songs. "Night Friends"
is a languid, dark ride that takes the Floyd comparison to
its limit, piano accentuating the gentle flow of guitar through
Powles’ rhythmic soundscape.
Two of this album’s most astounding tracks are at its very
center. "Chromium" is Willson-Piper’s most subdued
and impassioned contribution to a Church record to date. As
always, it is the most straight-forward song on the record,
but its sophistication outshines past pieces ("Spark",
"Russian Autumn Heart") ten-fold. The percussion
and bass line on this song are infectious. "Radiance"
reveals itself with breath-taking beauty; Kilbey’s vocals
filtering through multiple dubs like sunlight through a stained
glass window as he relates a tale possibly based on the Visions
of Fatima. Faith plays an understated role in this album–faith
in friends, family, lovers, faith in God, faith that blown
chances and broken hearts will pass. "Seen It Coming"
encapsulates this wry, gorgeous sentiment, and features some
of the best vocal harmonies the Church has ever put to tape.
"Seen It Coming" would have made a fantastic, majestic
closing song for this album, but the band does not let us
off that easy. Instead we have "Invisible," a slow,
quiet heartbeat of a track which is sure to pass into legend.
Bringing After Everything Now This full circle, "Invisible"
instills in the listener once again the feeling of regret,
uncertainty, motion (listen for the sound of the Swedish Rail),
and unspeakable beauty. If the Church had to be known for
the duration of their career for one song, this would be my
choice. Its power cannot be overstated.
So few bands are producing albums that demand to be listened
to from start to finish; so few bands turn out an album of
such clarity and intent 20 years into their career. The Church
still matters, and After Everything Now This is all
of the evidence people on the outside world will need.
— Heather Space
- After Everything
- The Awful Ache
- Song For The Asking
- Night Friends
- Seen It Coming
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