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

In Americana music the present is female. Two-thirds of our year-end list is comprised of albums by women. Here, then, are the women (and a few men) who represented the best in Americana in 2017.

If a single moment best illustrates the current divide between Americana music and mainstream country music, it was Sturgill Simpson busking in the street outside the CMA Awards in Nashville. While Simpson played his guitar and sang in a sort of renegade-outsider protest, Garth Brooks was onstage lip-syncindg his way to Entertainer of the Year. Americana music is, of course, a sprawling range of roots genres that incorporates traditional aspects of country, blues, soul, bluegrass, etc., but often represents an amalgamation or reconstitution of those styles. But one common aspect of the music that Simpson appeared to be championing during his bit of street theater is the independence, artistic purity, and authenticity at the heart of Americana music. Clearly, that spirit is alive and well in the hundreds of releases each year that could be filed under Americana's vast umbrella.

Keep reading... Show less

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

Keep reading... Show less

This week on our games podcast, Nick and Eric talk about the joy and frustration of killing Nazis in Wolfenstein: The New Order.

This week, Nick and Eric talk about the joy and frustration of killing Nazis in Wolfenstein: The New Order.

Keep reading... Show less

Which is the draw, the art or the artist? Critic Rachel Corbett examines the intertwined lives of two artists of two different generations and nationalities who worked in two starkly different media.

Artist biographies written for a popular audience necessarily involve compromise. On the one hand, we are only interested in the lives of artists because we are intrigued, engaged, and moved by their work. The confrontation with a work of art is an uncanny experience. We are drawn to, enraptured and entranced by, absorbed in the contemplation of an object. Even the performative arts (music, theater, dance) have an objective quality to them. In watching a play, we are not simply watching people do things; we are attending to the play as a thing that is more than the collection of actions performed. The play seems to have an existence beyond the human endeavor that instantiates it. It is simultaneously more and less than human: more because it's superordinate to human action and less because it's a mere object, lacking the evident subjectivity we prize in the human being.

Keep reading... Show less
3

Gabin's Maigret lets everyone else emote, sometimes hysterically, until he vents his own anger in the final revelations.

France's most celebrated home-grown detective character is Georges Simenon's Inspector Jules Maigret, an aging Paris homicide detective who, phlegmatically and unflappably, tracks down murderers to their lairs at the center of the human heart. He's invariably icon-ified as a shadowy figure smoking an eternal pipe, less fancy than Sherlock Holmes' curvy calabash but getting the job done in its laconic, unpretentious, middle-class manner.

Keep reading... Show less
5
Pop Ten
Mixed Media
PM Picks

© 1999-2017 Popmatters.com. All rights reserved.
Popmatters is wholly independently owned and operated.

rating-image