Ocean travel without a boat

Journal of Peter Greenwell

Tag: psych rock (page 1 of 2)

The Church – Sing-Songs

I didn’t know this EP existed at first. I saw the band live late 1984 and they played a song that I’d never heard before. It wasn’t something off the forthcoming Heyday either, as they hadn’t started work on that. It wasn’t one of their obscure B-sides like Bus Driver or In a Heartbeat, as I knew those. That song, as I later learned, was In This Room.

I actually called EMI in Sydney and asked them about The Church’s discography, and the polite young lady who spoke to me promptly told me I’d missed Sing-Songs, a 5 track EP they’d released between The Blurred Crusade and Seance. A 5 track EP that went nowhere in the charts and died a natural death.

I lucked out and found a vinyl copy in a K-Mart of all places and fell over myself getting home to play it. I loved it. There wasn’t a truly weak track on it, apart from maybe the Simon & Garfunkel cover which I can live without.

In This Room is the highlight, but the other three Church originals are almost as stellar. Ancient History with its smarmy lyrics, the Night is Very Soft with its quiet surge (and red serge settee!) and the jangly A Different Man.

The only hang-up with Sing-Songs is the garage band-level production, which renders four out of the five songs sounding like demo outtakes. I am a Rock was done by Bob Clearmountain so it at least sounds fuller, whatever its other merits.

Choice cuts: all five of them. Go forth and dig them, yo!

sing songs


The Church – Further/Deeper

So, is this The Church‘s latest and greatest? It’s certainly the former and as for being the greatest, no I don’t think so, though I do rate it. It’s grown on me, far more so than the more mystic, reflective Untitled #23. While there’s nothing on this record that approaches the spacey directness of Starfish, it’s a direct album in a glistening kind of way. Maybe that’s to do with new guitarist Ian Haug, who replaced Marty Willson-Piper. Haug’s background is alternative rock with Powderfinger, and his influence may have reined in some of Kilbey‘s experimental tendencies.

Make no mistake though, this is a Church record in every sense, although what that sense is varies usually from album to album. Like I said in another review, each Church record swims in its own logic and this one is no different. As with most of this band’s material, repeated listens are mandatory and if you don’t get their particular brand of psych rock, then you won’t get this album.

Further/Deeper continues a Church tradition begun with Heyday‘s Myrrh in having a trippy, driving opening track, most prominently highlighted by cuts such as Starfish‘s Destination or Gold Afternoon Fix‘s Pharaoh. This record’s Vanishing Man definitely rates among the best Church openers.

In fact, the record goes from strength to strength as you get further and deeper (!) into it – to a point. Album highlights include the surging, throbbing Globe Spinning, which is about as close as The Church gets to a new wave track, and then there’s the delightful Laurel Canyon, and the equally scintillating Love Philtre. The record runs out of steam a little toward the end, though it picks up in a slamming, bright fashion with Miami. Trimmed of a little fat, this record would rate in the top 5 for anything they’ve ever done, yet thirty four years after the release of Of Skins and Heart, it’s marvellous business as usual for The Church. Further and Deeper indeed.

further deeper cover

The Church – Heyday

I’ve been threatening to review this record since I (re)started this blog. Now that you know that, let me get on with things. If one includes the fix-up of Remote Luxury then this is album five for The Church, and what we have here is the stupendous culmination of a musical form that had been taking place since The Blurred Crusade.

Practically every song on this record is a new definition of jangle-rock from the opening mysticism of Myrrh to the concluding restrained thunder of Roman. In between one can find masterpieces such as Columbus, which rates amongst the best thing this band has done, the alluring Tristesse, the furious Tantalized and the epitome of psych/jangle in Disenchanted. The mystic vibe gets a further look in with the instrumental Happy Hunting Ground. The cassette/CD version contained The View sung by Willson-Piper, and Peter Koppes gets an outing on As You Will. Both of these extras add to the album’s lustre, which was already transcendent.

Yes, this is one of those rara avis varieties of record where there isn’t a weak track. Fans and critics cite their next record Starfish as their best, but song for song, this leaves it for dead. Yet, the critics went ooh aah over this record too.

Was it their best thing to date? Or for all time? For mine, it’s up there with Seance in the best thing they’ve ever done category. I feel it’s a better album than Starfish as the songs are better collectively and individually. Starfish was too spare in places for my liking and contains a song or two that aren’t quite there. Heyday, it coruscates and vibrates the whole record through. Close to perfection really.

heyday cover

Steve Kilbey – Miscellanaea Whispers in the Static

Well, what a glorious surprise this was. To be fair, I haven’t given much of Steve Kilbey’s solo work a real listen as what I’ve heard tends to blur together with many songs fighting to distinguish themselves. Yet his first record, the glorious Unearthed, is a masterpiece, full of hidden corners and sonic whisperings. At the other end of the catalogue, this collection with its purposefully misspelled title is almost its equal. Where Unearthed is a crafted album united in theme, this one is a motley crew of odds and sods but what marvellous offcuts and fragments it is.

It opens with the propulsive shimmer of Flummoxed, and things stay in palpably weird and vibrant territory thereafter. The record, true to its sewn together nature, it about half sung, half instrumental. There’s a couple of commissioned songs he’s written for others, such a A Song for Debby and James, and the glorious A Song for Domenique. He’s even concocted a string quartet rendition of Alice Cooper’s Poison which I think is a few notches up the totem pole from the original.

Some of the instrumentals rank among the best things he’s done, such as Carbon Nitrogen and Oxygen, Stately Garden Music and the Wild East.

But the album highlight would be the closing Panthalassic Sea, which wouldn’t be out of place on a Church record.

I love this collection and I can’t get enough of it. The one before it, The Idyllist, hasn’t grabbed me the way this one has with is unplanned, delightful chaos. Mr. Kilbey, more like this please.


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 – Magician Among the Spirits

This is record number nine for The Church and it sees a semi-sort of return by Peter Koppes after he left the band a few years previously. The title is lifted from a Harry Houdini book and that’s the great wizard himself on the record cover.

So is there any legerdemain, wizardry or conjuring on this album? Yes, plenty of all three. It’s not as samey-sounding or as watery as the preceding effort, Sometime Anywhere but it’s still an acquired taste for anyone who doesn’t instantly dig what The Church do.

It commences in a deceptively straightforward manner with the measured and steady Welcome which rates among the sillier things The Church has done, then affairs moves into the rockier Comedown which was an obvious single. Beyond that, we move firmly into legerdemain and trickster/mystery land and any attempt at making a commercial record went flying away in the clouds.

Cockney Rebels’s Ritz gets the cover treatment and it rates among the most glorious things The Church have ever done. Then life itself get better with the aptly-titled Grandiose, one of the more impressive instrumentals in existence.

Beyond that, the songs get longer and more languid. There’s plenty of turns, nooks, crannies and fugitive glances as the band delve into their experimental vibe. Romany Caravan is delightful and album closer After Image is a sweet and sad little piano outing.

Where does this record sit in their impressive catalogue? It’s hard to place simply as it’s hard to categorise. It’s brilliant in places and woefully unfocussed on a lot of it. To be honest, some of the songs could’ve used a good edit as they’re allowed to waft along without aim. In fact, you might accuse the band of being self-indulgent but if you read up on the history surrounding their existence at the time of this record, facts weren’t quite so delineated.

Steve Kilbey has pretty much written this record off (according to what I’ve read) and the band re-released it later minus Ritz and added four other tracks, and called it Magician Among the Spirits and Some. And gave the cover a nice pretty bronze tinge.

A transition record between their earlier, sharper commercial records and the latter, more independent period.

magician among the spirits

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.

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.


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.


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