The Church / Untitled #23 / 2006
I can still remember the first time I heard Sonic Youth‘s rebelious anthem, Teenage Riot; a friend had slammed a cassette-tape of Daydream Nation into the player as we raced down 8 Mile Road toward our destination. Our Destination? A local party-store that took a rather open-minded view of selling alcohol to teenagers. It was the intro of Riot that grabbed me. Kim Gordon’s stream-of-conscious vocal, Thurston’s raw, pentatonic tone and then the slashing Stooges-like riff as the song kicks into gear. We were already familiar with the “no wave” experimentalism of previous albums. But nothing prepared us for Teenage Riot. The music and lyric perfectly capturing the beauty of teenage rock rebellion. Everything about the album felt right. Gerhard Richter’s Kerze (Candle) album sleeve, the chaos of the screaming vintage guitars. All reinforced our worldview. Teenage Riot was the needed masterpiece for a confusing time. And it’s often this way with art. The music capturing something within the soul. Political or personal. Heartbreak or joy.
The Church’s Untitled #23 certainly didn’t fall into place so easily or romantically. I didn’t discover the incredible album until years after the initial release. A beautifully epic, psychedelic masterpiece from the band’s late period. Full of soaring orchestration, moody but infectious melodies and symphonic distortion that washes over the listener. Each listen revealing layer upon layer of texture, detail and sound. The individual tracks emerge and disintegrate into the thick, melancholic soundscape. The band’s trademark cosmic-jangle augmented with elements of chamber pop and shoe-gaze. But really, it’s Phill Specter’s Wall of Sound and the narcotic haze of Spacemen 3 that floats through the grooves of this record. These influences bring forth a unique album that was only hinted at on past efforts.
And given the achievement of those aclolays, the sonics aren’t even the best part of the album. Lyrically, Untitled #23 matures and grows. Conveying an honest distillation of adult heartbreak that manages to be undeniably sad, irresistibly accessible and strangely defiant. Coupling thoughts of a summer-love with loneliness and the regret of words never spoken. The songs are full of missed opportunities but suprisingly avoid self-indulgence and pity. Each track given the space and respect needed to be fully realized and without the need for justification.
“I don’t want your spirt or your doubt. I don’t want your deserts or it’s dream“.
Rarely does pop music or rock music articulate a broken relationship so shamelessly. The emotional center of the album somehow navigating the no-man’s land between acceptance and failure. It’s worth noting here that these tracks are oddly but explicitly masculine. That may seem an inapprioprate analysis in 2021. And maybe it is. But it’s also an acknowledgement of a specific and unique heartache. Not an exclusive one. There will be temptations to define this record as “dreamy” or make camparisions to a certain period of the Overated Four. That would be dismissive of the true depth of sadness, anger and paranoia to be found on this amazing disc. Untitled #23 touches a rarified emotional territory that is entirely it’s own.