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

A Certain Ratio Return with a Message of Hope on 'ACR Loco'

Inspired by 2019's career-spanning box set, legendary Manchester post-punkers A Certain Ratio return with their first new album in 12 years, ACR Loco.

Books

Oscar Hijuelos' 'Mambo Kings Play the Songs of Love' Dances On

Oscar Hijuelos' dizzyingly ambitious foot-tapping family epic, Mambo Kings Play the Songs of Love, opened the door for Latinx writers to tell their stories in all their richness.

Music

PM Picks Playlist 2: Bamboo Smoke, LIA ICES, SOUNDQ

PopMatters Picks Playlist features the electropop of Bamboo Smoke, LIA ICES' stunning dream folk, Polish producer SOUNDQ, the indie pop of Pylon Heights, a timely message from Exit Kid, and Natalie McCool's latest alt-pop banger.

Film

'Lost Girls and Love Hotels' and Finding Comfort in Sadness

William Olsson's Lost Girls and Love Hotels finds optimism in its message that life tears us apart and puts us back together again differently.

Music

Bright Eyes' 'Down in the Weeds' Is a Return to Form and a Statement of Hope

Bright Eyes may not technically be emo, but they are transcendently expressive, beatifically melancholic. Down in the Weeds is just the statement of grounding that we need as a respite from the churning chaos around us.

Film

Audrey Hepburn + Rome = Grace, Class, and Beauty

William Wyler's Roman Holiday crosses the postcard genre with a hardy trope: Old World royalty seeks escape from stuffy, ritual-bound, lives for a fling with the modern world, especially with Americans.

Music

Colombia's Simón Mejía Plugs Into the Natural World on 'Mirla'

Bomba Estéreo founder Simón Mejía electrifies nature for a different kind of jungle music on his debut solo album, Mirla.

Music

The Flaming Lips Reimagine Tom Petty's Life in Oklahoma on 'American Head'

The Flaming Lips' American Head is a trip, a journey to the past that one doesn't want to return to but never wants to forget.

Music

Tim Bowness of No-Man Discusses Thematic Ambition Amongst Social Division

With the release of his seventh solo album, Late Night Laments, Tim Bowness explores global tensions and considers how musicians can best foster mutual understanding in times of social unrest.

Music

Angel Olsen Creates a 'Whole New Mess'

No one would call Angel Olsen's Whole New Mess a pretty album. It's much too stark. But there's something riveting about the way Olsen coos to herself that's soft and comforting.

Film

What 'O Brother, Where Art Thou?' Gets Right (and Wrong) About America

Telling the tale of the cyclops through the lens of high and low culture, in O'Brother, Where Art Thou? the Coens hammer home a fatalistic criticism about the ways that commerce, violence, and cosmetic Christianity prevail in American society .

Music

Masma Dream World Go Global and Trippy on "Sundown Forest" (premiere)

Dancer, healer, musician Devi Mambouka shares the trippy "Sundown Forest", which takes listeners deep into the subconscious and onto a healing path.

Music

Alright Alright's "Don't Worry" Is an Ode for Unity in Troubling Times (premiere)

Alright Alright's "Don't Worry" is a gentle, prayerful tune that depicts the heart of their upcoming album, Crucible.

Music

'What a Fantastic Death Abyss': David Bowie's 'Outside' at 25

David Bowie's Outside signaled the end of him as a slick pop star and his reintroduction as a ragged-edged arty agitator.

Music

Dream Folk's Wolf & Moon Awaken the Senses with "Eyes Closed" (premiere)

Berlin's Wolf & Moon are an indie folk duo with a dream pop streak. "Eyes Closed" highlights this aspect as the act create a deep sense of atmosphere and mood with the most minimal of tools.

Television

Ranking the Seasons of 'The Wire'

Years after its conclusion, The Wire continues to top best-of-TV lists. With each season's unique story arc, each viewer is likely to have favorites.

Film

Paul Reni's Silent Film 'The Man Who Laughs' Is Serious Cinema

There's so much tragedy present, so many skullduggeries afoot, and so many cruel and vindictive characters in attendance that a sad and heartbreaking ending seems to be an obvious given in Paul Reni's silent film, The Man Who Laughs.

Music

The Grahams Tell Their Daughter "Don't Give Your Heart Away" (premiere)

The Grahams' sweet-sounding "Don't Give Your Heart Away" is rooted in struggle, inspired by the couples' complicated journey leading up to their daughter's birth.


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.