The Church are emphatically not a new band. Little known in the UK, they are and have been an Aussie institution for more than two decades. Of their contemporaries, Nick Cave has made the transformation from The Birthday Party‘s punk to Meltdown curator, and Peter Garrett has poured Midnight Oil on the waters of Australian politics, becoming a Labour MP in Canberra. The Church, in the meantime, have quietly gone about creating atmospheric, evocative music, spliced with more break-ups and farewell tours than any one band has any right to, together with numerous side projects.
El Momento Descuidado as a title suggests some flirtation with Latin music and language that is not followed through on what is a decidedly Australian record. In essence an acoustic take on the band’s sizeable canon with five new tracks, El Momento reinvents the band’s songs in a semi-live recording.
The five new tracks leave the album in an unclassifiable dimension between unplugged album, compilation and new material. “It’s not like we just played the old electric parts on acoustic guitars,” says front man Steve Kilbey. “That could never work for us. We really put some love into this.” The result likely falls between three stools, but it’s still a sweet, shimmering listen.
Opener Unguarded Moment has been in the public domain for something like 23 years, but here it sounds like the beginning of a journey across a vast, sunbaked continent with Bob Dylan in tow, while Under The Milky Way, another oldie, could have been written for a night camping in the bush, lying back in swags and gaping at the vast, stunningly clear Australian sky. Almost With You is a memorable singalong that recalls The Go-Betweens‘ warmest moments and is hard not to like.
But the record’s strangest moment is November, a psychological morass of out-there dreamscape and eerily effective instrumentation. There are other Church tracks that go down this dark route, but on El Momento it is the exception. Well before the half way mark I wanted the acoustics to be set aside in favour of a beat, a bass, a driving guitar. Of course, acoustic albums don’t go down such roads.
No matter. If ever an album could soundtrack a tourist bureau’s campaign to boost a country, El Momento Descuidado does it for Oz. If you’re not driving along an impossibly straight road towards an overwhelmingly vast horizon of red soil and blue sky any time soon, put this album on and dream it instead.