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The Church: Untitled #23 (Second Motion)

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Cosmic-tinged alternative rock never sounded better than Australia's the Church during their late-'80s heyday. Albums like Starfish and Gold Afternoon Fix were oases of beauty amidst the ugly yet vital cynicism that inspired the band's American peers (Jane's Addiction, NIN). After these watersheds, though, and in the aftermath of losing drummer Richard Ploog, the Church seemed to struggle in terms of material and finding the right producer to capture the band's interstellar, overdriven style.

Although Untitled #23, the band's latest release for Lansing, Mich., label Second Motion, contains a couple of marvelous tracks and has received glowing reviews, it's mostly a return to the cluttered, swirling, noncommercial sound that the band has specialized in since abandoning Los Angeles studios in favor of Sydney. Highlights include "Deadman's Hand," with its stardust-encrusted guitars and rhythms that may inspire a drive down a moonlit desert highway, and the lovely "Pangaea," a lullaby that drifts like an asteroid belt.

Otherwise, Untitled #23 is as indistinct as its title suggests, dwelling inordinately on no-tempo psychedelic pop minus any of the stinging guitar leads usually unleashed by guitarists Peter Koppes and Marty Willson-Piper. Unless you're a diehard Church fan, let me recommend the recent and very excellent solo efforts by Church frontman Steve Kilbey and Willson-Piper, also out on Second Motion. Dudes should've saved that fine material for the Church album!

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