Music

The Church: After Everything Now This

Jeremy Schneyer

The Church

After Everything Now This

Label: Thirsty Ear
US Release Date: 2002-02-05
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To say that The Church have been at it for quite awhile now is a bit of an understatement. To say that it's a rare thing for a band to put out one of their best records of their career in their 22nd year of existence is also a bit of an understatement. However, with After Everything Now This, the Church have done just that -– put together a record that handily bests anything that they've put out in the last 15 years, and can stand head and shoulders against their best efforts of the '80s. Easily their most compelling collection of material since 1987's breakthrough Starfish LP, After Everything Now This shows a band emerging from a rather lengthy creative rut. Not that The Curch's output of the '90s was anything approaching bad, but few fans will argue the point that nothing the band put out in that decade can stand up to their high-water marks, 1984's The Blurred Crusade, 1986's Heyday and the aforementioned Starfish.

After Everything Now This (The Church's 14th full length release, not counting several EPs and numerous solo records from principals Steve Kilbey and Marty Willson-Piper) was several years in the making, and was recorded on three continents -- but you'd never know it, because it's the most cohesive thing that The Church have produced in years. Drummer Tim Powles' production imbues these songs with a consistently beautiful crystalline air -- guitars are clean and chiming, drums insistent with their steady push-pull, and Steve Kilbey's always inventive basslines run through the mix like veins on a muscular forearm. While the Church's classic records might boast stronger songs as a whole, this is by far the best sounding album the Church have brought out in their entire career. The band continues with the trend of de-emphasizing big, bright guitar hooks (which featured prominently on songs like "Reptile" and "North, South, East and West", from Starfish), instead, opting for a translucent sheen that settles around these songs like fog over a marine town. After Everything also finds The Church making more use of effects and electronics than on previous albums, but thankfully, instead of being distracting and annoying, these effects merely serve to enhance the otherworldly tone of the recording.

Thankfully, After Everything is not all style and no substance -- the songs are the best batch that the band has written in years as well. Many of their '90s efforts floated off into the lyrical ether, with Kilbey discoursing on ancient mythology and obscure religious questions without really bothering to ground his lofty ideas in real human experience. As such, many of these songs failed to make an emotional connect, and came across more as academic exercises than pop songs. On After Everything, however, Kilbey seems to have curbed this tendency. Although he still deals in spiritual and religious imagery, he links these concepts to real experience, giving them much more weight than they would have otherwise. For example, on the title track, Kilbey manages to juxtapose inherently spiritual questions of life and death ("Here is a child playing in a garden / Here is an old man with a broken heart / Here comes a train to take you away / It all goes round and round and comes back to the start") with much more mundane (yet equally important on a day-to-day basis) questions of life's unavoidable moments of indecision ("Never really sure what you were waiting for / When the moment came you just couldn't choose").

Elsewhere, in "Radiance", Kilbey deals with the religious and spiritual much more explicitly, with a beautiful tale of a virgin visitation. Not exactly typical matter for a pop song, certainly (then again, Kilbey's always been a bit lyrically eccentric), but he keeps things interesting and thought-provoking, and winds up creating something practically transcendent in its beauty. The song details "three small sisters" who happen to witness "a strange light in the sky blotting out the sun", and are changed forever without really knowing what happened to them. "And the children ran home sobbing and half blind / Said our lady has a message for mankind / Frightened and bewildered, not making any sense / Dazzled by the virgin's radiance," goes the chorus. There doesn't seem to be much of a message here; Kilbey just seems to enjoy musing on the idea that these things can happen.

Kilbey also seems to have his eye on the real world as well, as songs like "Numbers" prove. Perhaps the most instantly engaging tune to lead off a Church record since the insistent tug of "Myrrh", from 1986's Heyday, "Numbers" is a typically haunting meditation on war and conflict, albeit in Kilbey's usual enigmatic lyrical style. "One for the cockpit crews, two for the panzer crews, three for the vast and molten sky." This is not the only mention of conflict on the record: the swirly, druggy-sounding "Night Friends" features the following quixotic verse: "Loving, we've been loving / But sometimes hate is better / You can't keep out the killers with love, man / Hating, we've been hating / But only love can heal up the hate." These words also reveal Kilbey's fascination with the duality of the world, and perhaps point a finger towards the Gnostic ideas that has been known to study.

No great Church record gets by without guitarist Marty Willson-Piper putting his two cents in, and After Everything is no exception. Willson-Piper's voice, although sometimes very similar sounding to Kilbey's, has a slightly higher pitch and more urgent tone, and can provide a relief from Kilbey's sometimes relentless melancholy. Here, he lends his pipes to "Chromium", perhaps the most insistent, rhythmic song on the disc. Although on paper, the lyrics read like so much nonsense ("Gilded flowers / Long-lost hours / Morning programs / With fake suntans / Neo-maniac in the cul-de-sac / Otherwise it's this in me"), they are quite effective in the context of the song, and provide a nice respite from Kilbey's mostly narrative-driven pieces.

The record closes with "Invisible", possibly one of the most beautiful, haunting pieces in a catalog positively rife with beautiful, haunting pieces. Hovering in the air for nearly seven minutes before expiring in a gauzy woosh of sound, and the words "All I ever wanted to see / Was just invisible to me." It provides a fitting closure to a record that, with any luck, will usher in a new era of productivity for this long-neglected, but often near-brilliant band.

From genre-busting electronic music to new highs in the ever-evolving R&B scene, from hip-hop and Americana to rock and pop, 2017's music scenes bestowed an embarrassment of riches upon us.


60. White Hills - Stop Mute Defeat (Thrill Jockey)

White Hills epic '80s callback Stop Mute Defeat is a determined march against encroaching imperial darkness; their eyes boring into the shadows for danger but they're aware that blinding lights can kill and distort truth. From "Overlord's" dark stomp casting nets for totalitarian warnings to "Attack Mode", which roars in with the tribal certainty that we can survive the madness if we keep our wits, the record is a true and timely win for Dave W. and Ego Sensation. Martin Bisi and the poster band's mysterious but relevant cool make a great team and deliver one of their least psych yet most mind destroying records to date. Much like the first time you heard Joy Division or early Pigface, for example, you'll experience being startled at first before becoming addicted to the band's unique microcosm of dystopia that is simultaneously corrupting and seducing your ears. - Morgan Y. Evans

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Music

The Best Dance Tracks of 2017

Photo: Murielle Victorine Scherre (Courtesy of Big Beat Press)

From the "shamanic techno" of Parisian duo Pouvoir Magique to Stockholm Noir's brilliant string of darkly foreboding, electro-licked singles, here are ten selections that represent some of the more intriguing dance offerings of 2017.

In June of 2016, prolific producer Diplo lambasted the world of DJ's in an interview with Billboard, stating that EDM was dying. Coincidentally enough, the article's contents went viral and made their way into Vice Media's electronic music and culture channel Thump, which closed its doors after four years this summer amid company-wide layoffs. Months earlier, electronic music giant SFX Entertainment filed bankruptcy and reemerged as Lifestyle, Inc., shunning the term "EDM".

So here we are at the end of 2017, and the internet is still a flurry with articles declaring that Electronic Dance Music is rotting from the inside out and DJ culture is dying on the vine, devoured by corporate greed. That might all well be the case, but electronic music isn't disappearing into the night without a fight as witnessed by the endless parade of emerging artists on the scene, the rise of North America's first Electro Parade in Montréal, and the inaugural Electronic Music Awards in Los Angeles this past September.

For every insipid, automaton disc jockey-producer, there are innovative minds like Anna Lunoe, Four Tet, and the Black Madonna, whose eclectic, infectious sets display impeccable taste, a wealth of knowledge, and boundless creativity. Over the past few years, many underground artists have been thrust into the mainstream spotlight and lost the je ne sais quoi that made them unique. Regardless, there will always be new musicians, producers, singers, and visionaries to replace them, those who bring something novel to the table or tip a hat to their predecessors in a way that steps beyond homage and exhilarates as it did decades before.

As electronic music continues to evolve and its endless sub-genres continue to expand, so do fickle tastes, and preferences become more and more subjective with a seemingly endless list of artists to sift through. With so much music to digest, its no wonder that many artists remain under the radar. This list hopes to remedy that injustice and celebrate tracks both indie and mainstream. From the "shamanic techno" of Parisian duo Pouvoir Magique to Stockholm Noir's brilliant string of darkly foreboding, electro-licked singles, here are ten selections that represent some of the more intriguing dance offerings of 2017.

10. Moullinex - “Work It Out (feat. Fritz Helder)”

Taken from Portuguese producer, DJ, and multi-instrumentalist Luis Clara Gomes' third album Hypersex, "Work It Out" like all of its surrounding companions is a self-proclaimed, "collective love letter to club culture, and a celebration of love, inclusion and difference." Dance music has always seemingly been a safe haven for "misfits" standing on the edge of the mainstream, and while EDM manufactured sheen might have taken the piss out of the scene, Hypersex still revels in that defiant, yet warm and inviting attitude.

Like a cheeky homage to Rick James and the late, great High Priest of Pop, Prince, this delectably filthy, sexually charged track with its nasty, funk-drenched bass line, couldn't have found a more flawless messenger than former Azari & III member Fritz Helder. As the radiant, gender-fluid artist sings, "you better work your shit out", this album highlight becomes an anthem for all those who refuse to bow down to BS. Without any accompanying visuals, the track is electro-funk perfection, but the video, with its ruby-red, penile glitter canon, kicks the whole thing up a notch.

9. Touch Sensitive - “Veronica”

The neon-streaked days of roller rinks and turtlenecks, leg warmers and popped polo collars have come and gone, but you wouldn't think so listening to Michael "Touch Sensitive" Di Francesco's dazzling debut Visions. The Sydney-based DJ/producer's long-awaited LP and its lead single "Lay Down", which shot to the top of the Hype Machine charts, are as retro-gazing as they are distinctly modern, with nods to everything from nu disco to slo-mo house.

Featuring a sample lifted from 90s DJ and producer Paul Johnson's "So Much (So Much Mix)," the New Jack-kissed "Veronica" owns the dance floor. While the conversational interplay between the sexed-up couple is anything but profound, there is no denying its charms, however laughably awkward. While not everything on Visions is as instantly arresting, it is a testament to Di Francesco's talents that everything old sounds so damn fresh again.

8. Gourmet - “Delicious”

Neither Gourmet's defiantly eccentric, nine-track debut Cashmere, nor its subsequent singles, "There You Go" or "Yellow" gave any indication that the South African purveyor of "spaghetti pop" would drop one of the year's sassiest club tracks, but there you have it. The Cape Town-based artist, part of oil-slick, independent label 1991's diminutive roster, flagrantly disregards expectation on his latest outing, channeling the Scissor Sisters at their most gloriously bitchy best, Ratchet-era Shamir, and the shimmering dance-pop of UK singer-producer Joe Flory, aka Amateur Best.

With an amusingly detached delivery that rivals Ben Stein's droning roll call in Ferris Bueller's Day Off , he sings "I just want to dance, and fuck, and fly, and try, and fail, and try again…hold up," against a squelchy bass line and stabbing synths. When the percussive noise of what sounds like a triangle dinner bell appears within the mix, one can't help but think that Gourmet is simply winking at his audience, as if to say, "dinner is served."

7. Pouvoir Magique - “Chalawan”

Like a psychoactive ayahuasca brew, the intoxicating "shamanic techno" of Parisian duo Pouvoir Magique's LP Disparition, is an exhilarating trip into unfamiliar territory. Formed in November of 2011, "Magic Power" is the musical project of Clément Vincent and Bertrand Cerruti, who over the years, have cleverly merged several millennia of songs from around the world with 21st-century beats and widescreen electro textures. Lest ye be worried, this is anything but Deep Forest.

In the spring of 2013, Pouvoir Magique co-founded the "Mawimbi" collective, a project designed to unite African musical heritage with contemporary soundscapes, and released two EPs. Within days of launching their label Musiques de Sphères, the duo's studio was burglarized and a hard drive with six years of painstakingly curated material had vanished. After tracking down demos they shared with friends before their final stages of completion, Clément and Bertrand reconstructed an album of 12 tracks.

Unfinished though they might be, each song is a marvelous thing to behold. Their stunning 2016 single "Eclipse," with its cinematic video, might have been one of the most immediate songs on the record, but it's the pulsing "Chalawan," with its guttural howls, fluttering flute-like passages, and driving, hypnotic beats that truly mesmerizes.

6. Purple Disco Machine - “Body Funk” & “Devil In Me” (TIE)

Whenever a bevy of guest artists appears on a debut record, it's often best to approach the project with caution. 85% of the time, the collaborative partners either overshadow the proceedings or detract from the vision of the musician whose name is emblazoned across the top of the LP. There are, however, pleasant exceptions to the rule and Tino Piontek's Soulmatic is one of the year's most delightfully cohesive offerings. The Dresden-born Deep Funk innovator, aka Purple Disco Machine, has risen to international status since 2009, releasing one spectacular track and remix after another. It should go without saying that this long-awaited collection, featuring everyone from Kool Keith to Faithless and Boris D'lugosch, is ripe with memorable highlights.

The saucy, soaring "Mistress" shines a spotlight on the stellar pipes of "UK soul hurricane" Hannah Williams. While it might be a crowning moment within the set, its the strutting discofied "Body Funk", and the album's first single, "Devil In Me", that linger long after the record has stopped spinning. The former track with its camptastic fusion of '80s Sylvester gone 1940s military march, and the latter anthem, a soulful stunner that samples the 1968 Stax hit "Private Number", and features the vocal talents of Duane Harden and Joe Killington, feels like an unearthed classic. Without a doubt, the German DJ's debut is one of the best dance records of the year.

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