Only the smallest percentage of bands survives long enough to celebrate more than two decades of existence, and an even smaller percentage does so without a massive underground following or a prolonged bout with commercial success. The Church falls firmly into the second and rarest of these statistics, having persevered for nigh on 25 years despite only one significant Stateside hit, 1988’s “Under the Milky Way,” and a limited audience outside the woefully under-recognized Australian music scene.
Forget Yourself, The Church’s seventeenth album, is an inspired, compelling and truly captivating release. It was put together like a William Burroughs “cut-up” novel: recorded during a series of extended jam sessions at Spacejunk Studios and then cropped and pasted into seamless individual soundscapes. This unusual creative technique notwithstanding, in many ways the material here is comparable to a grittier, more dynamic version of Priest=Aura (1992), a masterful and often overlooked album that achieved sonic expanse without its usual interminability. There is also a noticeable shoegazer influence — thick, swirling nebulae of guitars — which perhaps isn’t surprising given the band’s firm grounding in psychedelic rock; but very little about Forget Yourself consequently feels affected or retrogressive.
To dissect the album into separate tracks for the sake of calling critical attention to one or the other seems wrong. Like movements in a sixty-four-minute space rock symphony, each song is an integral part of the beautiful whole. Yet for most listeners, some of these parts will undoubtedly be more salient than others. “Sealine” is a strong album opener, lolling on feedback and then launching into shifty, bittersweet chord changes. “Lay Low” is ominous, alternately striking and recoiling. The surge of the chorus is a full, driving assault on the ears; from the center, vocalist Steve Kilbey sneers in his cryptic, deadpan way: “They’ll put your pain before philosophy / You put the number on for everyone to see.” Its antithesis comes with “Appalatia,” cosmic, crystalline and wistful to the visceral urgency of “Lay Low.”
“The Theatre and Its Double” is the track that most distinctly harks back to some of The Church’s earlier material. While the song drifts forward as if in a dream (like so much on Forget Yourself), the guitar gradually takes on a sitar-sounding quality above the hypnotic pulse of the drum and bassline, finally concluding far more abruptly than it began. What is most striking about the majority of these fourteen tracks is the extent of their three-dimensionality. We’re given depth in addition to the standard measurements of length and height. Then again, this has usually been a common characteristic among The Church’s output.
Forget Yourself surely ranks as one of this talented and prolific band’s best albums, as well as a solid contender for highest honors among the current crop of indie and rock music. It embodies the paradox of sounding as mature as it does fresh. Although its aural voyage asks the listener to indulge in a bit too much self-forgetting to attract any listeners from the jaded, image-conscious mainstream camp, it will be a guaranteed delight to both recent and longtime fans of The Church. Nearly a quarter century on, this four-piece is in as fine a form as ever.