Music

The Church: Man Woman Life Death Infinity

Photo: Drew Reynolds

With an album title that tries to cover everyone everywhere for all time, the Church's latest just might please them all.


The Church

Man Woman Life Death Infinity

Label: Unorthodox
US Release Date: 2017-10-06
UK Release Date: 2017-10-27
Artist website
Amazon
iTunes

"Patience is a virtue," said PopMatters's own Jayson Harsin when reviewing the Church's Untitled 23. "[N]ewcomers might tire waiting for the group's charms to percolate," wrote a writer for Mojo when reviewing the 2002 Church album After Everything, Now This. Fans of this long-standing Australian rock band are already aware of how the Church's best music rarely, if at all, jumps out at you on the first spin. Or the second or third. Even within the converted, this barrier can still appear from time to time, through no fault of the band's.

But once a Church album cracks itself open to you, there's nothing quite like it. There is still potent chatter over the internet for albums like the post-punk masterpiece The Blurred Crusade, the critical breakthrough Starfish and its spunky predecessor Heyday, and the dark, swirling psychedelia tucked deep within Priest = Aura. For the Church, these transcendent moments with their audience are the norm, not the exception. And the fact that an album as potent as Man Woman Life Death Infinity can pop up this late in a 36-year career in the music business is just cake, with icing, and being able to eat it.

At a glance, Man Woman Life Death Infinity is a succinct release. With ten tracks clocking in at 43 minutes, you would think they had trimmed away all that extra spaciness that puffed up releases like Sometime Anywhere and the vinyl edition of Further/Deeper. But such moments are still there. The Church have just become so skilled in incorporating them into their long-established sound that an album as concise as Man Woman Life Death Infinity still soars, no matter what the runtime.

All the more impressive is just how well former Powderfinger guitarist Ian Haug has settled into his new role. His arrival and subsequent work with the band haven't compromised a thing. There are many moments in Man Woman Life Death Infinity that can arguably have come from multiple moments of the band's history -- "classic" Church moments if you will.

What exactly do I mean by that? I'll do my best. The keyboard that starts the opening single "Another Century" should be enough to give you an "Aura" flashback. The miles-wide mid-tempo number "A Face in the Film" would be an easy fit for any of those moody late '90s Church releases, while the nervous energy that thrusts "In Your Fog" along reminds listeners of the band's early '80s period when they were young and hungry to prove themselves. And the e-bow guitar solo that wraps up the spritely "I Don't Know How I Don't Know Why" surely has a cousin lurking somewhere in the band's back catalog.

If you have followed the Church this far into their career, you know that they don't set out to retread themselves. If any of it reminds you of Church past, that's just a happy accident. They still reserve space for a few new tricks, no matter how subtle they sound on the first five listens. The album's second single "Undersea" is one of those let's-march-to-this-drummer-over-here moments where Tim Powles pulls out one of his nicely non-standard beats. "Fly makes the honey, man," sings Steve Kilbey, in a vocal melody almost too simple to have eluded him for so many decades.

"Another Century" stitches together three lovely little pieces of song to make a something simultaneously unique and insistent. Guitarist Peter Koppes knits it altogether absurdly easily, despite the key changes. "Dark Waltz" doesn't let us down gently at the end. Haug and Koppes strike out deep, cavernous clangs from their strings in three-four time while Kilbey delivers a spoken-word ramble that sounds like "Operetta's" sinister twin: "And overhead the cameras idiot gaze just blinks and leers / And you apprehend that the weekend that just ended / Has been gone for years." He's borderline rambling while the backing vocals, possibly provided by Powles or Koppes, ominously repeat something that sounds like "When I wasn't there."

Not a moment of Man Woman Life Death Infinity is wasted. Sure, it takes a good two minutes for "Submarine" to get started, but no fan of psychedelia, Krautrock, post-punk, Gothic rock, or ambient would consider those two minutes "wasted". To these fans, those two minutes of guitar noise as a key ingredient, just like the 12-string rolls of "Before the Deluge" or the ghostly reverb of "For King Knife". It's not easy proclaiming the latest release by a veteran band to be one of their best, especially when their long career is already speckled with many peaks. But damn it, I'm staking my claim here and saying that Man Woman Life Death Infinity deserves to go down as a 21st-century masterpiece, a bright beam of light amid a generic musical landscape, and truly one of the Church's greatest releases.

9
Music


Books


Film


Recent
Music

Run the Jewels - "Ooh LA LA" (Singles Going Steady)

Run the Jewels' "Ooh LA LA" may hit with old-school hip-hop swagger, but it also frustratingly affirms misogynistic bro-culture.

Books

New Translation of Balzac's 'Lost Illusions' Captivates

More than just a tale of one man's fall, Balzac's Lost Illusions charts how literature becomes another commodity in a system that demands backroom deals, moral compromise, and connections.

Music

Protomartyr - "Processed by the Boys" (Singles Going Steady)

Protomartyr's "Processed By the Boys" is a gripping spin on reality as we know it, and here, the revolution is being televised.

Music

Go-Go's Bassist Kathy Valentine Is on the "Write" Track After a Rock-Hard Life

The '80s were a wild and crazy time also filled with troubles, heartbreak and disappointment for Go-Go's bass player-guitarist Kathy Valentine, who covers many of those moments in her intriguing dual project that she discusses in this freewheeling interview.

Music

New Brain Trajectory: An Interview With Lee Ranaldo and Raül Refree

Two guitarists, Lee Ranaldo and Raül Refree make an album largely absent of guitar playing and enter into a bold new phase of their careers. "We want to take this wherever we can and be free of genre restraints," says Lee Ranaldo.

Books

'Trans Power' Is a Celebration of Radical Power and Beauty

Juno Roche's Trans Power discusses trans identity not as a passageway between one of two linear destinations, but as a destination of its own.

Music

Yves Tumor Soars With 'Heaven to a Tortured Mind'

On Heaven to a Tortured Mind, Yves Tumor relishes his shift to microphone caressing rock star. Here he steps out of his sonic chrysalis, dons some shiny black wings and soars.

Music

Mike Patton and Anthony Pateras' tētēma Don't Hit the Mark on 'Necroscape'

tētēma's Necroscape has some highlights and some interesting ambiance, but ultimately it's a catalog of misses for Mike Patton and Anthony Pateras.

Music

M. Ward Offers Comforting Escapism on 'Migration Stories'

Although M. Ward didn't plan the songs on Migration Stories for this pandemic, they're still capable of acting as a balm in these dark hours.

Music

Parsonsfield Add Indie Pop to Their Folk on 'Happy Hour on the Floor'

Happy Hour on the Floor is a considerable departure from Parsonsfield's acclaimed rustic folk sound signaling their indie-pop orientation. Parsonsfield remind their audience to bestow gratitude and practice happiness: a truly welcomed exaltation.

Music

JARV IS... - "House Music All Night Long" (Singles Going Steady)

"House Music All Night Long" is a song our inner, self-isolated freaks can jive to. JARV IS... cleverly captures how dazed and confused some of us may feel over the current pandemic, trapped in our homes.

Music

All Kinds of Time: Adam Schlesinger's Pursuit of Pure, Peerless Pop

Adam Schlesinger was a poet laureate of pure pop music. There was never a melody too bright, a lyrical conceit too playfully dumb, or a vibe full of radiation that he would shy away from. His sudden passing from COVID-19 means one of the brightest stars in the power-pop universe has suddenly dimmed.

Music

Folkie Eliza Gilkyson Turns Up the Heat on '2020'

Eliza Gilkyson aims to inspire the troops of resistance on her superb new album, 2020. The ten songs serve as a rallying cry for the long haul.

Music

Human Impact Hit Home with a Seismic First Album From a Veteran Lineup

On their self-titled debut, Human Impact provide a soundtrack for this dislocated moment where both humanity and nature are crying out for relief.

Music

Monophonics Are an Ardent Blast of True Rock 'n' Soul on 'It's Only Us'

The third time's the charm as Bay Area soul sextet Monophonics release their shiniest record yet in It's Only Us.

Film

'Slay the Dragon' Is a Road Map of the GOP's Methods for Dividing and Conquering American Democracy

If a time traveler from the past wanted to learn how to subvert democracy for a few million bucks, gerrymandering documentary Slay the Dragon would be a superb guide.

Music

Bobby Previte / Jamie Saft / Nels Cline: Music from the Early 21st Century

A power-trio of electric guitar, keyboards, and drums takes on the challenge of free improvisation—but using primarily elements of rock and electronica as strongly as the usual creative music or jazz. The result is focused.

Books

Does Inclusivity Mean That Everyone Does the Same Thing?

What is the meaning of diversity in today's world? Russell Jacoby raises and addresses some pertinent questions in his latest work, On Diversity.

Reviews
Collapse Expand Reviews
Features
Collapse Expand Features
PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 PopMatters.com. All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.