In my recent interview with Steve Kilbey, singer, bass player and songwriter for The Church, he hinted that ‘The Hypnogogue’, the new album from The Church, would be their last. While this was qualified, and given Kilbey’s almost Tourettes level of creativity, it seems hard to believe this would be so. However, Kilbey also reflected on his age (nearly 68 years old), the temporality of our existence and the resultant and growing obsession with the unknown future – the sci-fi carriage a lot of his recent work has travelled in.
‘The Hypnogogue’ may well be The Church’s first concept album, but it not a new weapon in Kilbey’s armour. Recent collaborations with Martin Kennedy (All India Radio), Glenn Bennie (Underground Lovers) and Gareth Koch have either been concept albums or shared a common golden thread of mysticism in worlds far away from the grim realities of our current climes: a form of escapism that deals with possibilities rather than realities. It is an untethered world.
‘The Hypnogogue’ does prove one thing: The Church (and indeed Kilbey as the pilot of this version of the vessel) will not bow out quietly. A collaborative effort, it is without doubt that the combination of the rich, luscious instrumentation from seasoned, experienced musicians, and the resonant, resounding melodies and cinematic anthems have created one of the band’s best records. If it is a swansong, it is an elegant epitaph for a band that has made an enormous contribution to music.
The album has the hallmarks of a rock opera – there are lead, exquisitely crafted pop songs scattered amongst shimmering tracks that are expository in style, providing intermissions or nuanced pauses in pace and intensity and moving the journey forward.
With ‘The Hypnogogue’, The Church remain a veritable institution with their crystalline shimmering sound, insistent, pounding rhythms and dreamy, ethereal lyricism that htreads throughout the album like a golden thread. The story behind the concept album is disturbingly prescient given the recent rise of AI in vehicles like ChatGPT. It is a future where artists can have hit songs inserted into their consciousness by artificial means, wrapped up in a simple love story where a recipient falls for the scientist who administers the process. Themes of creativity, its sources and muses, entropy and the inevitable end of all things span the album.
The idea of prog rock (as ‘The Hypnogogue’ has been described) does not sit easily with me – my love of The Church stems all the way back to their debit ‘Of Skins and Heart’ where jingle jangle melodic three minute pop song were perfected. In reality, there is not a huge or dramatic diversion from this formula – most of the songs have thrilling choruses and indelible melodies, they just have more time to gestate, form and settle. There is a far more immense and complex texture to the instrumentation and the production is crystalline and sharp (recorded at the iconic Damien Gerard Studios just outside Sydney and mixed by Darrell Thorp (Radiohead, Beck, Foo Fighters)).
Kilbey says of the title to the album:
There’s no such word, really – there’s a word hypnagogic and the hypnagogic state is the state between sleeping and dreaming when the ideas start to turn into dreams. So, you’re lying there thinking about when you were a kid and you were around at your Aunty May’s house, and then somehow as you’re falling asleep, that drip, that idea, that thought, will start to turn into a dream. It’s not quite a dream and there’s this kind of light – it’s my favourite state of being when the things are flowing – just the ideas and the thoughts.
Opening track ‘Ascendancy’ sets off the journey with howling guitars in the distance, pounding rhythms and Kilbey’s melodies as memorable and assertive as ever. There is an operatic bombast with an opening expository prologue feel to the lyrics as the protagonist begins a journey to rediscover his creativity and prolong his career.
‘C’est La Vie’ sparkles with the classic sound of jingle jangle guitars and mountainous melodies – psychedelic and grandiose, cinematic and poised. Backing choruses add a shining lustre and Kilbey’s voice is as enigmatic and dry as ever. Kilbey’s gift for story telling and poeticism is at the fore, the band behind him adept at creating a fitting sound track to the mystical journeys Kilbey embarks on.
‘I Think I Knew’ has an enthralling pace and vibrancy: a delicious urgent rush to it with a breathtaking ascendancy engendering an euphoric rush with its arpeggiated guitars and rolling piano. This is a thrilling pop song: Kilbey sings as the protagonist, wistful and resigned to his fate with a soaring chorus filled with yearning – hey can you help me to see?
It seems to me that the album then moves into a new sphere (the more prog rock world) with reflective, quiet, yearning tracks that wander and float in the night sky.
Indeed ‘Flickering Lights’ forms an intermission of sorts – again with an operatic expository feel that provides a moment of reflection absent of a repeating chorus.
With a sparse and hypnotic sound, the title track to ’The Hypnagogue’ taps gently into The Church’s more esoteric side: a psychedelic slow burning track that builds momentum and adds sonic layers with a chemical fugue.
Kilbey’s gift for story telling and poeticism is at the fore, the band behind him adept at creating a fitting sound track to the mystical journeys Kilbey embarks on. The repeating guitar refrain is hypnotic and compelling.
The accompanying video is just as mesmerising and enigmatic: a rich cinematic feature that has a Blade Runner exotic feel full of enigma and mystery set in this future world.
Directed by Australian filmmaker Clint Lewis, the clip captures the track’s futuristic essence. Kilbey says,
I gave the director a lot of input into this video but he took my ideas and ran with them and came up with a fair bit of stuff I never envisaged. The Church appear on screens in the Hypnogogue as workers in the system, translating the dreams of users into real time music. I’m very happy with the way it all turned out. It’d be hard to get a better result!
The result is visually spectacular:
The acoustic guitars of ‘Albert Ross’ introduces a folk-infused feel – reflecting the protagonist’s post operation reflection or regret: a sense of dream like state. This is a beautiful track – filled with a melancholy and regret as Kilbey sings everyone wants must want something for ever. There is a sense of a need to be remembered long after you pass beyond this mortal world – perhaps reflecting the deep psyche of any creative force. This feeling seeps into ‘Thorn’ and the call and response vocals resting on a bed of synths.
‘Aerodrome’ presses down slightly on the accelerator and the structured pop form returns as the journey recommences and we move into the third part of the album. Framed with regret for the protagonist’s actions, the song has a jingle jangle bedrock and a chorus of voices behind Kilbey. The pace continues with ‘These Coming Days’ and its throbbing bass: it is a song that soars with an electric thrum.
‘No Other You’ has a reflective shimmering wall of sound with singer/bass player Steve Kilbey’s voice filled with a heart-aching yearning. It is one of the most anthemic songs the band has ever produced – filled with melody and an orchestration that is ethereal and cinematic.
At heart it’s a love song and despite all the descriptions of the album as a whole being prog rock and a concept album, this track is pure and simply a statuesque pop song.
A warped psychedelic and surreal introduction to ‘Succulent’ follows – something far more esoteric and an ebb to the flow of the preceding track.
Kilbey named the penultimate track ‘Antarctica’ as his most favourite The Church song ever – a strong claim indeed. It is a shimmering and expansive track underpinned by swirling guitars and Kilbey’s urgent vocals. It features a vibrant drum pattern that is unrestrained and wild, bubbling underneath the chiming guitars. The song builds like fire from a spark, blossoming and flourishing into an epic, cinematic wash that suddenly turns inside itself into a spaced out jam that has a jazz feel. Born from an extended jam, the track roams over a sonic landscape, ebbing and flowing, sparking then diminishing.
The album ends with ‘Second Bridge’: a pulse quickening finale that is almost Beatlesque in parts with its psychedelic tinge. A simple sparse piano entry encompasses the protagonist’s tragic end as regret transforms into a certain sense of resolution and defiance: the song builds up like a crashing wave and guitars etch a fuzzy line high up in the sky. It is a thunderous end – layered and bold.
‘The Hypnogogue’ will not disappoint early The Church fans, and it will cement in the hearts of those that have followed the band ever since, the band’s epic status as purveyors of the most shimmering and poetic sounds. As with recent work, it also proves Kilbey’s innate ability to collaborate with incredible musicians and create something that is far greater than the constituent parts. Less prog rock and more perhaps a rock opera, this is a diverse and immersive magnum opus.
‘The Hypnogogue’ is out on Friday, 24 February 2023 and is available to pre-order in a variety of physical formats here (UK and Europe) and here (US, Australia and the rest of the world) and to stream and download here.
The Church The Hypnogogue tracklist:
- C’est La Vie
- I Think I Knew
- Flickering Lights
- The Hypnogogue
- Albert Ross
- The Coming Days
- No Other You
- Second Bridge
The Church is made up of bassist, vocalist and founder Steve Kilbey along with long- time collaborator, drummer and producer Tim Powles, who’s remained a staple across 17 albums since 1994. Joining them is guitarist Ian Haug, who has been strumming with the band since 2013 and formerly of Australian rock icons Powderfinger. Touring multi-instrumentalist talent Jeffrey Cain is now a full-time member since the departure of Peter Koppes in early 2020. Rounding out the members is the newly recruited Ashley Naylor is one of Australia’s finest guitarists and is a long-time member of Paul Kelly’s touring band.
The Church are about to embark on an extensive tour of the US – Kilbey’s favourite place to play – and news of an Australian tour is imminent:
The US dates for The Church are as follows:
Mar 11 Los Angeles, CA The Belasco – Ticket link
Mar 12 Solana Beach, CA Belly Up Tavern – Ticket link
Mar 14 San Francisco, CA Great American Music Hall – Ticket link
Mar 16 Portland, OR Aladdin Theater – Ticket link
Mar 17 Tacoma, WA Elks Temple Ballroom – Ticket link
Mar 21 Englewood, CO Gothic Theater – Ticket link
Mar 23 Minneapolis, MN Fine Line Music Hall – Ticket link
Mar 25 St Louis, MO Delmar Hall – Ticket link
Mar 26 Chicago, IL Thalia Hall – Ticket link
Mar 28 Kent, OH Kent Stage – Ticket link
Mar 29 Philadelphia, PA Theatre of Living Arts – Ticket link
Mar 30 New York, NY Gramercy Theater – Ticket link
Mar 31 Boston, MA The Sinclair – Ticket link
Apr 1 Hartford, CT Infinity Hall – Ticket link
Apr 3 Asbury Park, NJ Asbury Lanes – Ticket link
Apr 4 Alexandria, VA Birchmere Music Hall – Ticket link
Apr 5 Norfolk VA The Norva – Ticket link
Apr 6 Carrboro, NC Cat’s Cradle – Ticket link
Apr 8 Pelham, TN The Caverns – Ticket link
Feature Photograph: Hugh Stewart
[…] the release of their 26th album ‘The Hypnogogue’ (see my review here), Australian institution The Church have just announced an Australian tour, taking place after the […]