Country of origin:
Type of music generally:
Alternative rock, later somewhat progrock
Most recent release, Man Woman Life Death Infinity (2017)
The Church's site
Wikipedia's entry for The Church
Other indie-alternative rock bands of the 1980s and 1990s? R.E.M., The Cure, The Blue Nile, My Bloody Valentine
Own and selected covers
They seem to represent the "male" spectrum of Ecto almost as accurately as Peter Gabriel (or Marillion, for that matter). I'm sure if they had a female
singer they'd be in the pantheon by now.
Have to say that my favourite guitar work would be that of Marty Wilson-Piper and Peter Koppes in The Church, especially the kind of stuff they've been doing throughout the nineties, which almost approaches prog. Hologram of Baal, was my pick of the year. There's a few big differences—Kilbey's singing is deadpan rather than emotive (his lyrics are brilliant though), they don't have a keyboardist, but use weird production, and the brilliance of the guitar work is more from the guitarists' ability to play off each other than an ability to solo. A great example would be "Reptile" from their most successful album, Starfish, where Peter plays a short, high staccato line while Marty interweaves a low, moaning Rothery-style line on top. The effect is amazing.
I'd say I prefer work like that, where guitars intermingle to create a lush sound.
If you want to hear *fantastic* Church guitar, Starfish is not actually the place to look ("Reptile" being the exception), as the songs are fairly straightforward (that's a good thing in many ways, though). Priest=Aura is a much better example, the guitar lines truly weaving out of each other beautifully, very psychedelic and emotive. One song, "Chaos," is a nine-minute song built out feedback, while the closing instrumental, "Film," is just a jawdropper one of the most powerful pieces of music ever. Hologram of Baal is similarly brilliant, the sounds they make with the guitars are amazing, but the melodies are beautiful in a similar way to Starfish. ( firstname.lastname@example.org)
It is fantastic! As a former fan of Love and Rockets I immediately thought that the music of The Church is exactly the direction where I would have liked L & R to go (but Daniel Ash and company never went that way.) Thanks for turning me on to this very cutting-edge band! (Violaine@juno.com)
Recommended first album:
Hologram of Baal is the only ones Ectophiles have really talked about
- Of Skins and Heart (1981)
- The Blurred Crusade (1982)
- Seance (1983)
- Remote Luxury (1984)
- Heyday (1985)
- Starfish (1988)
- Gold Afternoon Fix (1990)
- Priest=Aura (1992)
- Sometime Anywhere (1994)
- Magician Among the Spirits (1996)
- Hologram of Baal (1998)
- A Box of Birds (covers, 1999)
- After Everything Now This (2002)
- Parallel Universe (remixes, 2002)
- Forget Yourself (2003)
- Jammed (instrumental, 2004)
- El Momento Descuidado (2005)
- Back with Two Beasts (2005)
- Uninvited, Like the Clouds (2006)
- El Momento Siguiente (acoustic, 2007)
- Shriek: Excerpts from the Soundtrack (soundtrack, 2008)
- Untitled No. 23 (2009)
- Further/Deeper (2014)
- Man Woman Life Death Infinity (2017)
1998—Thirsty Ear Recordings
It's strange how absolute mind-crushing brilliance can slap you in the face for weeks before you look it in the eye and acknowledge it completely. My first reaction to this album a couple of months ago was, "Phew! They're back to writing good records again", and left it at that. It was everything an album by The Church should be packed with gorgeous melodies, layered production, beautiful guitar-playing, surrealistic lyrics...but I hardly expected to have my world rocked by it, an album so amazing that it made all the other fantastic albums released this year seem pedestrian. So when I was sitting on a train on my way to work one golden afternoon a few weeks ago, listening to the album on earphones and staring out the window, and the chiming guitars of "Louisiana" started echoing around my head, I wasn't prepared for the tears that sprang into my ears. Nor later when, walking by the river on the final stretch to work, the almost tidal force of the chorus of "Tranquility" coincided perfectly with the sun coming out from behind a cloud, and suddenly everything in the world was going to be all right, and I could face work. When my shift finished 8 and a half hours later at 2 am, "Another Earth"'s triumphant guitar peal summed up my exact feelings about going home. Suddenly this album had become, and still is, the soundtrack to my life.
But of course the music is the important thing, so what is it that makes these 10 songs so brilliant? I think it's an ability to infuse the music with complex emotions which marks some of my favourite records—Talk Talk's Spirit Of Eden, The Cure's Disintegration, Marillion's Afraid Of Sunlight and The Church's own Priest=Aura. But this time The Church not only do just that, but do it almost to excess, so that every song literally floods you with a particular emotion. However in its grandiose design, the songs do not gloss over the inherent subtleties of their own aims, but rather, replicate their aims as fingerprints the size of the moon, so that every line is actually a canyon to be explored.
Such canyons include the way Marty Wilson-Piper's spiralling guitar in "Anaesthesia" perfectly matches Steve Kilbey's line, "I don't know why I've gotta fly", as if this was literally the *sound* of drugs. Steve's impressionistic story about (I think) an adulterous wife being surprised by her husband coming home from the war (sort of like Somersby?) in "Lousiana", is accompanied by music which can only be the product of six months intensive study of what hot American summers would sound like in music form (that the guitars "chime" is an understatement. They sound like I imagine softly tapping a thousand silver goblets of honey would sound, while underneath "radiotronic" noises hum like those (Indian?) bowls you rub around the edges with a metal rod). The mid-section of "The Great Machine" where all the guitars fade into nothing, leaving only a ghostly keyboard instrumental, perfectly simulates the slow shutting down of the entire universe which Steve sings about.
"Tranquility" (about a woman who starts a new life out in the country) seeks to live up to its name by moving at snail-pace, yet its tune could still make the dead dance. The chorus is one of most beautiful ever made in my opinion, even though it's grounded by pure noise (like a very very quiet grunge? Not angry or violent at all, rather... majestic, sort of). "Buffalo" weaves and ducks in and out of being a simple, stripped-back ballad and being swamped in more of that grunge-noise. "This Is It", the album's most desolate song, rides on a single guitar riff (which gets more haunting each time its played) and some more eerie, piercing, beautiful "radiotronics".
Of course this is then followed with the album's grandest track, the exultant "Another Earth", which sounds like Spiritualised playing marching band music. It is perhaps the most gloriously uplifting song ever written—certainly that I've ever heard, beating my previous nominee, Marillion's "Heart of Lothian"—and you'd expect it to be the triumphant closer to an excellent album. Instead Steve and the gang choose to follow it with a song even sweeter, if possible. "Glow-Worm" is a surprisingly simplistic (in both words and music) paen to love and a special loved one on the surface ("You're so easy to love..."), but it soon becomes even grander (if more stately) than the previous track. There are so many shimmering layers here that when they drop away momentarily, it feels like the band have fallen off the edge of a cliff, only to be bouyed by a cloud of violins—imagine a cross between My Bloody Valentine at their most tuneful and Paradise Motel at their most pretty.
The other aspect which must not be forgotten are Steve's words and singing. Their '92 album Priest=Aura was one of the most lyric-centric albums ever made by an actual band (where the songs were little more than beautiful backgrounds intended to emphasise Steve's musings), and I can't imagine them trying to take that avenue again. Indeed, since then Steve has been pushed further into the background with each release, and here the roles are finally completely reversed, Steve's lyrics more often resembling a collection of abstract moments designed to give the music meaning rather than form any complete story.
Yet despite this there are moments here when Steve's words resonate more deeply than I can fully understand. The tone of true surprise in his voice when he exclaims "Sometimes I'm knocked out by the damage that you're doing," in "Richochet". The way he rhymes "Lousiana" with "welcome banner", and then in the same song shrugs ironically, "That's my story, cast of thousands." The way he manages to write a tribute to Michael Hutchence ("This Is It") and yet avoids all the pitfalls hiding in such a prospect, (inane lines, clichés or caricature) by imagining what was going through Michael's head in the final few hours of his life, ("Sometimes you come across a fork in the road/and what was waiting there you never could have known"), in the process writing the anti-"Candle In The Wind."
Anyway, if you want an album that marries the jangle of R.E.M. with the grandeur of The Cure, the perfection of The Blue Nile with the experimentation of my.bloody.valentine, the passion of the Blues with the intelligence of Prog Rock, then please, buy this album. It may change your life. It has changed mine. (email@example.com)
the church's hologram of baal has made a lot of 1998 top ten lists on ecto and elsewhere. tim's eloquent review finally made me go out and get it. i've listened to it the requisite two times and must concur: it's an excellent return to form for the church. the last of theirs that i had was priest=aura which, while good, never really struck me enough to play it much. i lost track after that, though i guess they've put out at least one, maybe two other records since. hologram of baal will keep me paying attention though.
but is it a top ten of the year? hmmm. dunno. it's not really ground-breaking as a church record or as a record in general. that's the kind of thing that i usually look for in a top ten record (assuming i actually would make a list—hah!). (firstname.lastname@example.org)