[Reviewed by Peter Marks]
In a world full of uncertainties where alliances shift by the hour and borders are re-drawn in crayon it is nice to have a few constants in your life. The Church are one of them for me. Since 1986, they’ve been making the rough edges of life a bit more interesting to me. Without them I don’t think I would have even known how subjective a rock band could be, and I know that is a gross oversimplification but hey… if they didn’t somehow exist within the confines of that bothersome word you’d be unable to keep up; they are beyond any definition if you really choose to look at what they do, The Church are a shamanic bunch who record their works shrouded in secrecy and when they do choose to grant interviews only do so when they have the advantage. Their history has given them a somewhat cynical outlook towards the whole train wreck we know as “the music biz”.
That very business is what delayed this album for years. I don’t know the particulars but from what Steve Kilbey had to say about their former record label it’s sobering. Even decades after their flirtation with mainstream success, The Church are still misunderstood as some commodity who can be labeled, categorized and crammed neatly into the box. Ever seen them live? Any notions about predictable returns or linear artistry can be thrown right out the window, they have no agenda and there isn’t a safe message to identify with, the entire time I’ve followed them has been nothing short of a roller coaster ride which consists entirely of the ascent. They’re never satisfied with what they do, whatever does get out is a snapshot of where they’re at. Have no doubts, the next time won’t be the same.
‘Further/Deeper’ continues this mentality of destructive catharsis and does so quite melodically. It is shiny and polished in ways I’ve not heard since ‘After Everything Now This’ or ‘Priest = Aura’. The guitars are what sell it, because they are balanced so perfectly in the sound field you’ll swear there was only one person playing. It is the seamless blending of Peter Koppes and Ian Haug, however. I cannot tell who is doing what but the delicate work they display gets very detailed, so much so that when it changes into a raging storm on a song like “Toy Head” you’d better take cover or be blown out to sea. Tim Powles has all the menace of rolling thunderstorm on their latest record, really cutting loose on this track. I maintain they recorded it during a massive hurricane with gale force winds howling just outside.
Kilbey doesn’t disappoint either; we all know his words have a tendency to cut through the bullshit but many have forgotten that he’s a rather reputable bassist. I hear him challenging himself, pushing beyond the safe drones he does so well. This is such a beautiful, savagely strange record! To go from the emotional extremes of a piece like “Pride Before a Fall” to the delirious ecstasy of “Laurel Canyon” is no small feat. Again, the guitars etch and auger their way across each song like chisels carving a finely crafted creation. Who’s playing the keyboards, they’ve been absent for what feels like an age.
Simple arpeggios on some tunes, swirling clouds of reflective chords on others and then individual notes nailing down your memories to an unforgiving canvas in between.
The Church, after a couple records where they decided to mellow out are now back on edge. Some of what Kilbey’s talking about would make even a percocet high lose it’s luster. The tempos are kept in the mid to high range with Powles exploring the full range of his kit on each and every one. As is tradition, the best one gets brought out and burnished towards the end of the album. “Miami” is an epic which can take it’s place alongside these legends: “You Took”, “Grind”, “Film”, “Roman”, “Hotel Womb” and “Glow Worm”. Everything is so painstakingly arranged, all the elements fall into place with a delicate grace; ‘Further/Deeper’ has a resiliency to it you wouldn’t expect out of a band approaching 40 years old. The second act is over, and we’re now in the third. I pity those fans who aren’t going to come along. You know who you are, so let me make one last pitch to win you over.
Ian Haug is a vital part of this band, I’m aware of the legacy he’s coming in after and a lot will no doubt smugly say that he’s got some big shoes to fill. Here’s the thing, though, he’s brought his own pair and has no interest in emulation. I haven’t seen them live yet so I don’t know what the picture is there but on record he does the band proud and absolutely amazes me with his technique and tone. Peter Koppes does indeed have a new partner in crime. Unlike before, however, it is a collaboration and not a competition. Say what you like about who they are now but The Church haven’t sounded this unified in years. This was an album made by friends working towards a collective goal, how long has it been since that’s happened… they’re more dangerous than ever in 2014.
Watch your step, pilgrim.