Listening to the Church usually takes me back to the mid-’90s, when I used to go to goth/industrial nights in Philadelphia. They seemed to be the only nights out where a girl could actually hear the Smiths and dance and sway a bit. Other big goth-ish hits were the Church’s “Reptile” and “Under the Milky Way,” and I’ll always associate them with goth night too. However, on Untitled #23, the band has again changed directions, and this time it’s a dream-pop psychedelic odd-yssey.
Like their fellow Australians, Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds, the members of the Church don’t get boring even though they’ve been around for donkey’s years (or since 1980 in calendar years). Steve Kilbey still possesses a velvet voice and Peter Koppes’ guitar is still doing seductive back flips. The Church remains a tantalizing guitar band, tricky and seductive and ultimately sublime. When bands this good don’t break up and just keep putting out releases that remind us why they are so good, longevity is blessed.
“Cobalt Blue” opens the album with dark and snaky drums, and the soaring vocals and synthesized strings are harmonic like otherworldly Beatles. The Church are a whole different kind of eerie, suggestive of Space Oddity-era Bowie, only much bigger and expansive. “Happenstance” walks this uncharted territory as well, weaving psychedelia with harmonies in delicate balance. “Pangaea” is as wide as the title suggests, nearly overblown and overstated, and devastatingly beautiful in its restraint. “Anchorage” is a desolate lighter waver, a harder edged psychedelic foray across musical tundra. “Lunar” is more ethereal wandering across that frontier.
The album is at once sparse yet warm and layered, lush and thick lipped, engorged with beauty. The Church have proven yet again they are masters of dreamy and dark rock, prolific and inventive. Leaving the album untitled lets us, the listeners, decide what to call it for ourselves, and it gives us the entry to wander in the band’s wilderness.