The Church 2024
Photo: Hugh Stewart / Reybee

The Church’s Companion Album to ‘The Hypnogogue’ Is Superb

The Church’s “companion piece” to The Hypnogogue is just as good. It didn’t take long for the veteran Aussie psych-rockers to break in their new lineup.

Eros Zeta and the Prefumed Guitars
The Church
Communicating Vessels
29 March 2024

Australian musical institution the Church have been going for 40-odd years. During that time, they have undergone multiple lineup changes and released countless singles, EPs, and compilations, as well as 27 proper studio albums. Remarkably, each of those records sounds exactly like the Church yet retains its own unique identity within the catalog.

What do the Church sound like? Well, they have always operated from a bedrock of David Bowie, the Beatles, Pink Floyd; of glam, jangle-pop, and psychedelia, with intertwining dual guitars, deep rhythms, and Steve Kilbey‘s sometimes-wry, sometimes-earnest, strangely charismatic vocals.

Their last album, The Hypnogogue (2023), was an especially impressive feat: With a revamped lineup that saw the band without both of their founding guitarists (Peter Koppes and Marty Willson-Piper) for the first time ever, the Church delivered one of their finest. The Hypnogogue took their psyched-out, blissed-out yet tuneful sound farther into progressive rock territory than before and added an overriding space-age rock hero concept, also a first. The group also sounded more confident, relaxed, and engaging than in years, adding at least a couple of bonafide Church classics to the canon.

Eros Zeta and the Perfumed Guitars, then, comes burdened not only with that “Look! I’m a concept album!” title but also with being a quick follow-up to an acclaimed success. In fact, it is being billed not so much as a follow-up but as a “companion” album to The Hypnogogue. Previously, it was offered as a merch-table exclusive on the Church’s last tour. Then, a handful of its tracks were tacked on to The Hypnogogue to make an “expanded”, digital-only edition.

Expectations for such “odds’ n’ sods” outtake albums are usually not very high. Remarkably, though, Eros Zeta and the Perfumed Guitars is every bit as good as The Hypnogogue and delivers a couple of classics of its own.

The first is the opening track, “Realm of Minor Angels”. Lush, swirling rhythm guitar, a plucked mandolin, and Tim Powles’ stumbling drums set the stage for Kilbey’s unabashedly romantic, lovelorn vocal. Then, in a breathtaking moment, a deep, crystalline lead guitar slices clear through the track as Kilbey sings, “Take your time, my friend / Love finds you in the end.” The chorus juxtaposes a morose lyric—”Don’t bother trying / I know you’re lying”—with a catchy, upbeat melody. The entire package is majestic in a way only the Church can be.

“Song 18” is another love song and another all-timer. Acoustic and electric guitars mesh and jangle away as a warm synth pad wafts in and treated backing vocals echo Kilbey’s lyrics, this time inviting a lover to “Step into the light / And be free.” These may sound like trite sentiments, but the careful, ornate arrangements and Kilbey’s heartfelt crooning suggest otherwise.

Outside of these highlights, Eros Zeta and the Perfumed Guitars has plenty more to offer. “Pleasure” and “Sleep For Miles” jangle and shimmer like nothing the Church have done since Uninvited, Like the Clouds in 2006. “2054” and “Korea” are airy, wistful, Beatlesque psychedelia, while “A Strange Past” alternates chiming but ominous verses with creepy, otherworldly breakdowns.

For all their mileage, the Church still find a way to add some new, if subtle, twists. “The Immediate Future” is moody post-punk anchored by a nervous, near-industrial programmed rhythm. “Song From the Machine Age” and especially “The Weather” traffic in a swampy, midtempo type of new wave blues the band have never tried before. The stark “Last Melody” finds a bewildered Kilbey accompanied only by a fuzzy, trembling electric organ. Maybe these wrinkles are the result of the new lineup, with guitarists Ian Haug (Powderfinger) and Ash Naylor (Even, Paul Kelly) and multi-instrumentalist Jeffrey Cain (Remy Zero) joining bassist Kilbey and longtime drummer/producer Powles.

Even with such a strong set, those who have long found the Church to be dense and pretentious won’t have their minds changed, and they will find ammunition in the inherently self-indulgent prog exercises and narrative concept (Kilbey has also written a book to go along with the album). As for that concept, based around the exploits of titular rock star Eros Zeta, listeners can feel free to have fun with it or simply ignore it; if nothing else, the conceit allows Kilbey to have his character proclaim they “…sing like a choir / Like Steve Kilbey”.  

If going meta is what keeps the long-serving Kilbey interested these days, so be it. With results like this, the comparison is pretty high praise.

RATING 8 / 10