Ocean travel without a boat

Journal of Peter Greenwell

Tag: dream pop (page 1 of 2)

The Church – After Everything Now This

Well OK, with this record, The Church have released what is effectively their most blah piece of work. Repeated listens haven’t revealed the undercurrents and nuances that normally pervade any good Church record. It’s a consistently reflective and calm effort that swoons by without ever taking hold. Songs like The Awful Ache and Chromium mix things up a bit but not to the point where it offers the record refreshing variety, because quite simply, variety doesn’t exist here.

After Everything Now This is record number twelve and comes three years after their covers LP Box of Birds and, more tellingly, a year before one of their better outings in the excellent Forget Yourself. Maybe the memo went out to start mixing the formula again after this record. Yet, this isn’t to say After Everything Now This is a bad album – it’s not. It’s full of the usual suspect Church ingredients but rather than sugar, it’s been replaced by saccharine here. Or stevia. I’d like to think it was stevia actually.

But this record is for completionists only, of which I am one. A new fan of The Church eagerly delving into their wonderful discography should skip this one for the nonce. There are better records from this band to begin a grand adventure in neo-psychedelic ecstasy.

after everything now this

The Church – Of Skins and Heart

Some artists are defined forever by their first records. E.g soft rock star Christopher Cross and his debut in 1980. Essentially everything else Cross has ever released has been ignored and not charted. In fact, it’s probably a case of Cross who?

Thankfully, The Church didn’t suffer Cross Syndrome and have gone on to release many superb records, a few of which charted better than this stellar debut effort.

It’d be near impossible to define The Church by any record as each one thrives on its individual, internal logic. Of Skins and Heart is no different. It is a far rougher and rawer record than anything they’ve released subsequently, especially the reflective and atmospheric The Blurred Crusade which came next. Even slow and ponderous tracks like Don’t Open The Door To Strangers have a tumbledown spontaneity.

This record is harder edged and generally rockier than anything that comes after it in The Church‘s oeuvre. In fact, the first four songs on this record thunder along like nothing they have ever done again. When we get to Bel Air, affairs slow down a touch, but a marvellous melody takes over. And on She Never Said, The Church does its best New Wave thing – a genre they never really visited again.

Later releases have included the British Invasion sounding Too Fast For You, the dreamy Tear It All Away and the trippy Sisters, all of which were originally released on an EP with the songs Fraulein and You’ve Got To Go. And why this record never included the wicked, surging Bus Driver is one of life’s ineffable mysteries.

Also, this is one of the few albums to grab me on first listen.

of skins and hearts

The top The Church albums and songs

Edit: I wrote this before Further/Deeper was released. I’d put that about number 7 or 8.

OK, this is directly inspired by this where they individually ranked their top 15 The Church records along with their three favourite songs from each.

Disclaimer: I’ve never really given Sometime Anywhere, Hologram of Baal, After Everything Now This or Uninvited Like The Clouds good solid listens. Well, that’s four records I can’t include – wow, what sort of Church fan am I? I know, right? Also, I’ve included their “acoustic” remakes, their album of outtakes and an initially internet-only release here too. Although I have Remote Luxury listed, I’m going to include Sing Songs as part of it, as the whole shebang was re-released this way anyhow. Ditto with Of Skins and Heart – this record was re-released with three songs from a 5-track EP (Too Fast For You) tacked on the end, so I’ve taken into account the songs included.

OK, this list is how I feel as of right now, the 11th of October, 2014. Ask me to pick them again in a month and it’ll be different. Format is record : songs

15. Back With Two Beasts : Ionian Blues, Pearls, Saturation
14. El Momento Siguiente : North, South, East and West, Wide Open Road (Triffids cover), Electric Lash
13. Forget Yourself : Nothing Seeker, Song in Space, Lay Low
12. El Momento Descuidado : 0408, Tristesse, Till The Cows Come Home
11. Untitled #23 : Cobalt Blue, On Angel Street, Happenstance
10. A Quick Smoke at Spots : Ride Into The Sunset, Forgotten Reign, We Both Know Why You’re Here
9. Magician Among The Spirits : Ritz, Grandiose, Comedown
8. Remote Luxury : In This Room, No Explanation, Shadow Cabinet
7. Of Skins and Heart : Bel Air, For a Moment We’re Strangers, Tear It All Away

All right, this is where it gets hard.

6. Gold Afternoon Fix : Monday Morning, City, Russian Autumn Heart
5. Priest=Aura : Feel, Kings, Chaos
4. Starfish : North, South, East and West, Antenna, Spark
3. The Blurred Crusade : Just For You, A Fire Burns, Field of Mars
2. Heyday : Disenchanted, Columbus, Roman
1. Seance : Fly, One Day, Disappear

There you have it. Rankings 1 through 6 are very much subject to whimsical change. I rate Seance slightly higher than Heyday simply because it’s a darker record, more reflective, sombre etc. I like that in my music. But, what does this list mean really? Well, there’s a preponderance of older material here. The top 6 are all 80s records with the exception of Priest=Aura which just scrapes in to 1990. I’ll have to disclose here that I simply haven’t given their later material serious and repeated listens. And yes, that’s something I intend to rectify, and in the meantime this list can definitely said to be statistically biased.

As far as best songs go, well for me, the definitive Church song is Columbus from Heyday. That encapsulates every positive feature and aspect of the band I can name. Honourable mentions go out to 0408, Just For You, Feel, Grandiose and In This Room. Another marvellous song I haven’t listed here – as it was a B-side – is Life Speeds Up. It’s up there as well.

This Mortal Coil – It’ll End In Tears

Oh boy, didn’t I cop it from my friends when I first bought this way back in 1984. It didn’t really fit in with the Springsteens, the Hooters and the other MOR 80s stuff they were so fond of. No, this was funeral music. Miserable, sodden rubbish.

I almost fell for their talk too. Then I gave It’ll End In Tears repeated listens. Then the merits of this record opened up and I’ve enjoyed its dying fall ever since.

This Mortal Coil aren’t a band in any logical sense. They were a “label house act” to give it a name, comprised of various signed members of the English record label 4AD, including Cocteau Twins, Dead Can Dance, Modern English and so on, with various songs being played by different members from these acts. There’s no cohesion here in that regard.

While calling it funeral music is a glib insult, a lot of it is funereal. Note the difference. It’s a cross between gothic music and dream pop, very airy, very arty, very atmospheric. Definitely not for everyone and it quite possibly is an acquired taste. Correction: it is without dispute an acquired taste. It was for me, despite some initial appeal. On this record, we have covers of artists as diverse as Tim Buckley and Alex Chilton (from Big Star) with Song to the Siren and Kangaroo respectively.

English folk singer Roy Harper gets one of his covered in Another Day (record highlight) and this rendition happens to be one of the most gorgeous things ever recorded, even if Liz Fraser goes murky and chews up the vocals here and there. Other highlights include the epic-sounding Dreams Made Flesh, the bleak wonder of Fond Affection (sung by Gordon Sharp who really does sound like a woman) and the lovely album closer A Single Wish also sung by Sharp.

This Mortal Coil made a few more records but none of which capture the splendid last days of the world vibe this one does. It’ll End In Tears is a gloriously “away with it” work and I strongly recommend it.

itll end in tears

The Church – Remote Luxury

All right, firstly – this album was never released as a single unit in Australia at the time. Instead, we got two EPs – Persia and Remote Luxury. Persia contained Constant in Opal, Volumes, No Explanation, Violet Town and Shadow Cabinet. Remote Luxury (EP) had Maybe These Boys, 10,000 Miles, Into My Hands, A Month of Sundays and the instrumental Remote Luxury. It’s since been remastered and re-released in combination with the earlier EP Sing Songs. Great value, if you ask me.

With that aside, what we have here is Church album number four. After the boom crash ding-dong-along of Seance, the drums have thankfully been pared down in the mix. Things aren’t as dark on this record as they were on the previous one, not that’s that is a bad thing. If you’ve been following along with my dainty little reviews, you’ll know I like dark.

The Church has gotten subtler over the intervening years between this and The Blurred Crusade too. Only Maybe These Boys is truly “open” in its style and structure, however it doesn’t mumble as much as Seance did. Mind you, that mumbling was glorious, but that’s a tale for another review.

The whole thing starts off with Constant in Opal, which sees our Fab Four in fine form. Weird lyrics and even weirder music, and yes, do check out that lovely bizarre music video.

The Persia section of this album is the more up-front one, with greater dynamism and rockier beats. No Explanation would be the highlight of this crop, though many fans cite Shadow Cabinet as their favourite.  Affairs become dreamier and more reflective with the Remote Luxury half of this record. Apart from the pulsing and confrontational Maybe These Boys, the other four songs vary in their reverie, with my favourite being A Month of Sundays.

The music jangles, the lyrics obfuscates and the entire thing is most likely an acquired taste to anyone not in tune with The Church.

Really, the whole shebang was never meant to be a single album and it’s perhaps the least cohesive thing this band did. Regardless, I love it and I thoroughly recommend people go forth and find it, and savour its hidden corners. You can see signs of where they were going next with some of the scintillating guitar weaving and Heyday was the culmination of all that.

remote luxury

Icehouse – Measure For Measure

This is record number four for Icehouse. It sounds absolutely nothing like anything that came before it. In fact, the evolution of this band’s sound from the nervy hard rock/new wave of their first album, to the “bottled” sounding fake-rock of Sidewalk is all quite amazing.

Measure For Measure is all smooth textures, round edges and dreamy rhythms. In fact, it’s Iva Davies approximation of Roxy Music’s Avalon and Simple Minds’ New Gold Dream ’81-82-83-84.

Keyboards are front and centre here, and the music tries its best to float by on some ethereal current. It works sometimes, especially on the opening track Paradise, and other album cuts like Angel Street and No Promises. It falls flat too namely on tracks like Baby You’re So Strange and Lucky Me. Strangely, the B-side to Baby You’re So Strange, Too Late Now, is probably one of the best things Icehouse have recorded. They wisely included it on the CD release of the album.

But it’s intriguing listening to Mr Big, then going back in time six years and comparing it to the first album’s Fatman, which I think are two connected songs. The change in sound…talk about rapid evolution.

Anyhow, Icehouse were to hit the big time with their next record, Man of Colours, which is more or less a continuation of this. This isn’t a bad record, but it’s certainly an 80s relic. Big drums and big synths. And there’s a little too much trying to be Bryan Ferry or David Bowie (or Simple Minds) here. Iva Davies never quite did sound like himself on a record.

measure for measure

Tangerine Dream – Lily On The Beach

This is the follow-up record to Optical Race. In a lot of ways, it’s more of the same and that is very much a positive thing. There’s thirteen songs here and the unifying theme is the West Coast of the United States. This record evokes images of everything from beach-side cafes to the high mountains, with everything from fast roads to deserts in between.

It’s a livelier record than its predecessor. There’s none of the dreamy reflection that was prevalent on Optical Race. In truth, the whole record sounds happy. Apart from the battery of synths, there’s drums and guitars throughout and a fair chunk of it does come across as a product of its era. In fact, the song Paradise Cove sounds like it came straight out of Miami Vice or Beverly Hills Cop.

Of course, there’s highlights here, from the title track to the empyrean Mount Shasta, the happy groove of Blue Mango Cafe, the reverberating Gecko and the cool cruise of Desert Drive. The album highlight would be Crystal Curfew.

This record? I love it.

lily on the beach

Steve Kilbey – Unearthed

Should be listened to in the bedroom and out of it says the groove notes, and I can happily say I’ve followed those instructions to the letter. Even without the benefit of psychedelic substances, this record is a stupendous winner. It’s different enough from anything released by The Church to please non-fans of that band, but similar enough for others to feel as if they’re walking on comfortable ground.

This wonderful record was released in the afterglow of Heyday, itself a masterpiece, and it’s provided me with years of sublime enjoyment. Make no mistake – it’s not mainstream music; far from it, but once you’ve delved into the record’s delights you’re not likely to leave soon.

The word “shimmering” gets heaved about a bit when referring to The Church, yet that’s exactly what this LP does. It shimmers. And it occasionally sparkles and stutters. In your face, but still mysterious tracks like Transference does all of the above, then there’s the hypnotic zig-zagging Swampdrone and Heliopolis, both of which will stay in your mind long after the record has stopped. Kilbey even slappas da bass on Design Error, and throws in a blast from a whistle for good measure. Things go up tempo with Judgement Day, reflective with Othertime, and positively weird on Famine

The record was self-produced and recorded at home by Kilbey, and that precisely what it feels like. Low-budget, low-fi and yet disturbingly effective. If anything out there has to be labelled “alternative rock” then this is it. This is what it’s about. This is easily one of the better records I’ve touched on here.

The CD release adds a couple of tracks, Forgetfulness and Nonapology.

Unearthed

The Church – Priest = Aura

Good-bye Richard Ploog, enter J D Dougherty. Let’s face it. Dougherty’s drumming leaves Ploog’s in the dust and although he is credited with co-authorship on many of the songs here, there is an air of him merely being a temporary session musician and this is the first and last album he did with The Church. Still, that’s neither here nor there as this is an excellent album. It combines the shimmer dream pop of Heyday with the glorious gloom of Seance without sounding like a merger of the two.

The production, by Gavin McKillop is a light year ahead of the the fussy and flat work of Gold Afternoon Fix. I’ve often wondered why they’ve never used him again (they even name-checked him in a later song). Song by song, Aura begins the album – a chanting, driving tune. Ripple continues the shimmer along the path to glory but Paradox is a slight let-down and one of the platter’s weak links for no reason I can put a finger on.

Lustre gets back on track nicely. Swan Lake was reviled by a few reviewers of the time of being coy and somewhat silly yet it isn’t that bad a song with some lovely cynical lyrics. Feel is easily the album highlight for no reason I could put forward. It just is. Worth getting this record just for it. Mistress is another album great, and a fine way to end out the first side.

Side two begins in style. Kings is a brilliant cut – very jangling and mysterious and the air is full of secrets waiting to be revealed. Dome is a straightforward track, and lyrically The Church go for science fiction about the fall of a domed city and their civilization. Witch Hunt is a sinister little effort leading up to The Disillusionist.

A chanting chorus tells us The Church a trying to make some point with the Disillusionist. Old Flame carries the cynicism into Psychedelic Furs territory here; a short but not so sweet treatise on lost loves.

Chaos is a monumental song. Song doesn’t describe this track in apt terms I’m afraid. A band going off in the studio using all their musical talent would be more appropriate. Awesome in every way, listen to that middle section! The reality generator has malfunctioned! Astounding, astonishing, this has to be the weirdest thing this group has ever done and it comes off in a big way.

After the rampant dynamism of Chaos, Film counterpoints the energy with reflection. An acceptable instrumental and a damn fine way to finish off a damned fine album.

priestaurabig

The Church – The Blurred Crusade

Well, well, the band’s second effort is as far removed from their first musically and stylistically as Rush’s debut was from their 1985 release Power Windows. OK, here come the adjectives: lush, expansive, dreamy, orchestral, resounding, echoing, elusive, The Blurred Crusade benefits from a big production from Bob Clearmountain, and also benefits from a cohesive thematic structure.

This album has a much more solid and defined feel to it than its predecessor. The album starts off with the archetypal Almost With You, complete with Spanish guitar solo and fleeting lyrical quality.

Personally I don’t much care for this song. It seems a shame that the songs that made it for The Church seem to be their worst, but then again – that’s me. When You Were Mine is a straight ahead rocker, more polished than the pseudo-grind of any similar song on Of Skins and Heart, Fields of Mars is a glorious song. Slow, thunderous, cavernous and entirely melodious, Marty Willson-Piper gets to warble his vocal cords here on this one.

An Interlude starts out exactly that, then develops nicely into an over the mountains and far away dream rocker; Secret Corners is short and sweet, but full of uplifting hooks and twirls.

Just For You is the second best song on the album, a full blown love paean, starting with Steve Kilbey practising his guitar and getting up to answer the door, the door opens and so does the music, a nice and charming touch. It truly is a simple, yet poignant mid-tempo hail to the joys of dedication.

A Fire Burns is a stratospheric rocker with booming drums and chiming guitars, To Be In Your Eyes is a quiet and laid back tune; strums along blissfully but never to the point of becoming elevator music.

You Took is an epic, a near-9 minute long exercise in call and follow musical technique, with Kilbey repeating his choruses a la Morrissey. The guitars soar somewhere near the ionosphere in this one too. Don’t Look Back is the album closer, and like Secret Corners, it is brief, with a sort of wobbly beat to it. Not a bad way to close what is a great and magnanimous disk.

blurredcrusade

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