The Church ‘Man Woman Life Death Infinity’ Review: Australian alternative icons offer submerged, hypnotic soundscapes on new album.
I guess water is my element. I’ve always marveled at the sea and rivers and rain. It wasn’t conscious at all but on reflection, it definitely is a preoccupation on this record. What that means, I don’t know.
That’s The Church frontman/bassist Steve Kilbey describing Man Woman Life Death Infinity, the band’s 26th studio album (out October 5th on Unorthodox Recordings). And it’s an apt description for a record brimming with oceanic atmospherics.
The grandiose title promises an epic scope, and this is apparent from the opening track: Another Century is a dreamy reverie, highlighted by keyboards and cascading guitars, with Kilbey’s echo-drenched vocals casting a serene spell. It’s the perfect entry point to the dense textures the band craft on the album.
Submarine, more than lives up to its title with pitch shifted guitars that bleat like whale songs, while Kilbey croons a tale of survival of the fittest: Nature loves a winner/we’re gonna end up some creatures dinner/the devil loves a sinner/you were on the menu, you’re just a beginner.
The song is also a showcase for the band’s rhythm section, with Kilbey’s burrowing bass in lockstep with drummer Tim Powles skittering krautrock beat, achieving a spacey, disembodied quality.
Undersea is a psychedelic sea shanty, using a unique call and response vocal hook that ricochets off the guitar architecture, accompanied by ghostly backing vocals and twinkling electronic elements.
This is their second release with former Powderfinger guitarist Ian Haug, who replaced Marty Willson-Piper for the group’s 2014 album Further/Deeper, and he remains an ideal foil for veteran guitarist Peter Koppes. You can hear how their chemistry has tightened since the last album.
Before The Deluge is a prime example of their unique synergy, full of graceful interlocking guitar lines, boasting an anthemic chorus. Its vintage Church in the vein of classic albums like Of Skins and Heart and Heyday, crafting that mix of euphoria and wistfulness that the band do so well.
For King Knife is another track that will bring listeners back to the earliest stages of the band, with their mix of post-punk attitude and classic psychedelia at its most elemental, conjuring fairytale images of some medieval realm, anchored by the refrain the show will start without you.
Closer Dark Waltz is one of their bluesiest numbers to date, offering a bit of Nick Cave-esque Southern Gothic melodrama punctuated by ghostly piano.
Man Woman Life Death Infinity holds a mood both melancholic and mysterious. There is a subtle angst in the world-weary jangle of I Don’t Know How I Don’t Know Why and the overcast and haunting Something Out There is Wrong. The latter track in particular has the inky noir aspects of band’s dark masterpiece Priest=Aura.
In this way, the new album feels perfectly suited for our uneasy and disorienting present, where we constantly struggle to keep our equilibrium. Luckily for us, there’s solace to be had throughout this stirring 10 song meditation.
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