When a band releases ten albums it is worthy of recognition. If they survive to twenty years of successful existence, they get a ticket to first-class. But when a band releases their 25th studio album in over 40 years of music, we need to almost lean into our inner Billy Idol and know “since we let our first-class passengers do, pretty much whatever they want,” we should listen.
Australian alt rock, new wave, neo-psychedelia, post-punk, dream pop, self-defining visionaries The Church have spent decades defining and refining their sound, embodying various degrees of energy and light. Their latest release, The Hypnogogue (February 24, 2023 – Communicating Vessels/Unorthodox), does not deviate, but expands an already deep well of sonic brilliance.
Rightfully so, the Australian Recording Industry Association (ARIA) Hall of Fame band has a long list of successes under their belt and could opt to simply tour on the back of a wealth of discography until they see fit to call it quits. Contrary to that sentiment, The Hypnogogue profoundly establishes a wisdom and self-awareness that cannot be viewed as anything other than the beginning of a whole new chapter for Steve Kilbey, Timothy Powles, Ian Haug, Jeffrey Cain, and Ashley Naylor.
There’s a place between wakefulness and sleep where reality bends around the slipping consciousness, that is The Hypnogogue. It takes a master hand to shape that sense into a tonal experience without losing the listener to the abstract. With an almost imperceptible ease, The Church does just that.
The Church holds near to their balance of acoustic and electric blends, harmonies, and swirling builds throughout the thirteen new songs while taking the listener on an almost concept-album journey. The record opens with an alt-new wave familiarity (“Ascendence” and “C’est La Vie”) that anchors you to the comforts of The Church. Yet, as the album progresses a subtle shift takes place. We depart the airy dreaminess and begin to move into different world entirely. The hauntingly reflective “Flickering Lights” stretches out into textured ambiance and lingering echoes, lightly kissed by reverb on a guitar in the background, severing the ballad piano front if only for a moment. The Hypnogogue takes its shape. A balance of floating through darkness is warmed by blends of audio ventures that feel anything but anchored by a band whose origins were over forty years ago. The record shutters any sense of complacency as it comes to fruition in a thoroughly distilled expression. It is like standing on a steep cliff over dark waters watching a distant storm roll in over the waves and embracing the beauty and chaos all at once.
Exploration of their own sound, individually and as a whole, has led The Church to The Hypnogogue. Hints of how we got here are present as far back as Séance, yet this record feels vividly present, if not foreshadowing. Through twenty-five studio albums The Church has made it quite clear their ability to find pockets of light in a dark expanse has not wavered. Much more than that however, they continue to test their own limits. The Hypnogogue feels as fresh and visionary in the hands of these masterful musicians as we could possibly hope. As far as I’m concerned, we need to continue to let them do whatever they want.