The third time… is it the charm here?
Actually, that’s the wrong question to ask. A question like that implies that Steve Kilbey and Martin Kennedy, of the Church and All India Radio, respectively, did not get it right on their first two attempts together. But if you are familiar with those two bands (why else would you be reading this?), then you already know that that’s not really the case. Let’s go back a few years.
In 2009, Kilbey and Kennedy released Unseen Music Unheard Words, a masterpiece of subtlety. Sounding mostly like an All India Radio album with a guest vocalist, Kennedy’s minimalist approach to ambient pop proved to be a perfect match for Kilbey’s melodies, lyrics, and vocal delivery. With this and the Church’s Untitled #23 being released within the same calendar year, Church fans were beside themselves with joy. Two years later, the duo went at it again with a slightly altered approach. Martin Kennedy downplayed his ambient tendencies and upped the smoothed-over pop components of his sound. The resulting White Magic was not so much minimal as it was plain. Even Steve Kilbey admitted in his blog that White Magic was a little disappointing. So, back to the drawing board they went. And rather than retrace the blueprint that gave them the magical sound of their first album together, Martin Kennedy has instead embraced every musical sensibility he has—pop, krautrock, ambient, minimal, busy, soft, loud, comforting, unsettling—for their third album together. The musical backdrop for You Are Everything is a tall, wide canvas and every inch of it is filled with color. Intense shades may come and go, but there’s never a moment on the album that resigns to autopilot.
You Are Everything isn’t just thick in sound. The very title itself casts its net wide in some kind of be-all-end-all statement in universal affairs. And what better way to start an album like that than with conversations with the devil and god? “I Wouldn’t Know”, taking its tea with the Prince of Darkness, lets the listener know right away that You Are Everything isn’t going to be an album full of midtempo numbers. The tempo is brisk, not speedy, providing a nice anchor for Kennedy’s spaced-out three-note guitar lick. But your toe can’t get used to this too quickly, because next comes the wandering souls on “Everyone” (again, with the universality…do I share cells with this album or something?). Kilbey and guest vocalist Leona Gray trade their doubts and follies but unite in an strangely positive chorus of “Hold on, you’re everyone.” Be it self-assuaging or an assuaging of the masses, it is one of the numbers of You Are Everything that uses the duo’s full dynamic range. The song’s climax accidentally segues into “Lorelei” just right, bursting forth with guitars from the Chrome-era of the Catherine Wheel.
Choosing a climax for You Are Everything is tricky. I feel like the album peaks numerous times and for many different reasons. “I Find” succeeds in Martin Kennedy finding a totally original piece of music for Kilbey to sing over, the kind of which he probably never encountered before. This could explain the use of the word “imbecile” in the chorus. “Knowing You Are in This World” is a lovely continuation of the sound of Unseen Music Unheard Words, albeit with a more beefed-up sound (close your eyes and imagine the forceful inertia of a backwards piano). The start of “All the World” is an attention grabber in its own right simply because the introduction is so eerily unaffected. Seriously, hearing Kilbey’s voice with an acoustic guitar with no reverb added to either is just that strange. But if a gun was held to my head, I’d have to go with “Brother Moon Sister Sun” as the album’s centerpiece. A fond echo of some of the Church’s best psychedelic ballads, it’s the kind of song that drips from the guitars and pianos without aid, willing itself into existence, no effort from either musician required.
If the remainder of You Are Everything feels even-keel, it’s only because they share album space with such strong material. Elsewhere, they would probably be recognized as masterpieces in their own right, like “Can’t Get Free”, a mysteriously uptempo song readymade for an indie film. “A Better Day” feels like a lost magic key, waiting for the uninitiated to go and unlock Steve Kilbey’s peculiar solo career. The duo may not have swung and missed on their first two times, but You Are Everything is really the charm. Now all we need is for Kilbey’s rumored collaboration with Greg Dulli to materialize, and a new Church album, and we can safely say that the world is set for this decade.