The Church are a band I have visited on and off throughout the five decades of their existence, but, to my shame, I failed to spend as much time in their company as I should have, certainly not as much time as their music deserves. Because it has always been beguiling, moving far beyond mere pop songs and sonically drifting into more mystical and psychedelic realms. Even the single that really put them on the map, Under The Milky Way, felt like it was plucked from a strange ethereal realm rather than sweated over in a dusty rehearsal room or hot studio.

So to dip my toe back into their sonic waters to experience Hypnogogue, the band’s 26th album, is a wonderful experience, especially as I find them giving way to their more proggy sonic urges, which have always lurked in the dark corners of their songs. We heard hints of it on Priest=Aura, and here they embrace such strange trance states and wayward structures again, only often deeper and darker in their scope.

This double album is based on a sci-fi narrative, where a North Korean inventor in a dystopian landscape has created the titular machine whose purpose is to draw music from people’s dreams. Hardly the stuff of Unguarded Moment, but a sign that we all get more interesting as we grow up.

The first singles from the album drew much attention, the dark and lilting title track and C’est La Vie, a song which echoes with the band’s signature sounds of shimmering guitars, only somehow tougher and the whole thing more raw-edged. Elsewhere on the album a range of sounds and styles cross our path. These Coming Days is built of space and atmosphere, understated melancholy and fractious anticipation; Antarctica feels akin to the Berlin era Bowie and Albert Ross is a gentle acoustic ballad with plenty of 60’s pastoral pop poise about it.

Even on successive plays, I’m not overly sure of the story it is telling, but maybe that isn’t the point, and even though I have used words such as proggy and psychedelic, this is neither Tales of Topographic Oceans nor Piper at the Gates of Dawn but a type of progressive music which is perfect for The Church and perfect for the modern age. More an adventurous take on pop and rock forms than the flights of fancy and excess often associated with the genre. Thankfully, there are no ten-minute bass solos, no journeys to Mordor and no one is dressed as a wizard.

It would have been easy for a band like The Church to have taken an easy route years ago and continued down the logical pop-rock path leading directly from Starfish to the present day. But, if anything, the band have only got more adventurous, restless, and more exploratory over the years, taking the scenic routes, the more challenging routes and producing albums which have continued to amaze even their most loyal aficionados. Hypnogogue proves they still have many boundaries to push at, expectations to subvert, and paths less travelled to leave their sonic footprints on.

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