Friday, September 17, 2010

PVT : Church With No Magic

5 Stars

I’ve left this review a bit late.

Church With No Magic has been out for a while now.

The band launched the album in style across the nation in previous weeks, and it’s a matter of sheer laziness and frustrated semi-creative urges that has prevented me from writing this review, but just like your girlfriend’s period, it’s better late than never. In fact it’s a bit of a blessing as a viscous bloody discharge is a fitting motif to start this review with considering both the band’s twisted sense of humour and the fact that more than any other album I’ve heard this year, Church With No Magic is bloody and full of viscera.

Not to get carried away on a wave of cock-smoking, but you’d be hard pressed to find a release as bold and challenging as Church With No Magic. While the album never errs on the side of cautious creative restraint it still maintains and accessibility further refined from 2008's O Soundtrack My Heart. A bit of a contradiction I know, but PVT are a band who lap up the turbulent and contradictory waters between art and popualr appeal.

The best way to explain this seemingly paradoxical sound that is both complex and digestible is that with the addition of vocals and the evening out of the rhythmic landscape, PVT have given listeners a handle to grab on to as the heaving beast of an album drags them through it's strange habitat.

Not to say they’ve covered up the more experimental side of the band, the album being hewn from the raw sonic stone thrust out of the band’s imagination in a seismic four day jam session in Sydney’s BJB Studios, but they have found a way of making their esoteric and ephemeral musical wanderings more comprehensible to those of us lacking fluency in the band's intricate musical language.

Multi-instrumentalist and vocalist Richard Pike’s voice forms the melodic centre-piece of a lot of the album, carrying the weight of the hooks with the other parts forming themselves around his simply stunning vocal work. Whereas the band’s earlier, predominantly instrumental work often relied on the instrumentation to serve as the bait, with the vocals now taking the load, the playing is given free rein to paint vivid and at times mind boggling images around Pike. This isn’t always the case though, the vocals at times serving a more instrumental and textural role and various instrumental parts across the album playing a more dominant role in the arrangements, but really you can’t take anything for granted on this album. The minute you do, PVT pull the floor out from under you and let you drop into an altogether different type of blissful abandon.

Drummer Laurence Pike (he’s Richard’s brother if you didn’t know, not his father, son or wife) has taken up a far less attention-grabbing role on the album. Possibly due to the band’s avoiding of overly complex time signatures or the added depth and weight to the music compared to previous releases, Laurence’s drumming can be at times overlooked on Church With No Magic. Considering his almost inhuman skills at the skins some might take issue with this but I for one welcome it and praise Laurence for having the humility to take a step back to support the band’s overall more textural and less definite approach. What he’s playing is still far from simple most parts likely to send a less ferocious drummer into a fit or cardiac arrest, but it’s presented in a more subtle fashion, subtle being a strange word to use in relation to an album that assaults the senses as forcefully as this does. Still when you can do shit like this (Drums For Fun & Fitness), showing off with a solo here or there probably seems pretty pointless.

This album also marks the first time sampling and live electronic guru Dave Miller was actually in the same country as the brothers Pike during the recording process, and the effect is monumental. You could never say that his work on O Soundtrack My Heart lacked complexity, but it’s more than evident that being in a room and jamming with the rest of the band as opposed to working on tracks sent over from halfway across the world brought out the mad scientist in Miller. Literally just spraying the album with a hot jet of amazing samples, woven into the silk of the album with the craft and skill of an Italian couturier, Miller adds a new dimension of depth. It’s often difficult to know what’s Dave and what’s Richard, Miller showing a true mastery of his craft and truly live sounding sense of vibrancy in what he does.

From ambient opener Community, through nervy title track Church With No Magic, powerful singles Window and Light Up Bright Fires, the insistent and driving Timeless and airy epic closer Only The Wind Can Here You, PVT deliver what I think is one of the most important album of the year so far, possibly even the previous decade. Really my only criticism is that it’s only 38 minutes long. However having recorded almost another album’s worth of b-sides I’m just hoping that we’re lucky enough to cop a deluxe edition of some sort a little later in the year.

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