Incantations - New Christs (Impedance)

incantations-smThe New Christs have a long history running through possibly the most convoluted list of line-up changes any band has endured and still retained a moniker.  This has meant new albums have held a certain fear factor.  What will they sound like this time?  Can anything they do compare to the towering peak of “Distemper”?  Let’s face it.  If that’s your five-star album, you have a lot to live up to.

The good news is “Incantations” delivers in excess of all expectations largely through its restraint.  Rather than rely on the sledgehammer, this is an album built on coiled snakes and spiralling chord patterns.  Song writing is to the fore.  Each track reveals a new facet, a slight turn in direction.  You immediately recognise the New Christs but something has changed.  There’s an intention here.  A determination to be as good as it gets.  And, frankly, this album has blown me away. 

 If previous New Christs albums had a failing, it was the tendency to shout “Let’s Rock” and pummel the listener with sonic outrage and a more is more philosophy.  I’m not knocking the idea in theory but it led to a lot of songs you’d recognise at gigs but not be able to put a name to or remember what disc they came off of.   It wasn’t that any of the songs were bad.  It was just like waiting for a bus.   You’d wait two years and then 14 of them would all come down the road at once.

This is a true break out album for the band.  Instead of trying to out smash past glories, the New Christs have neatly sidestepped and built a second tower.  I’m not saying it doesn’t rock because it clearly does.  It’s just this album rolls too.

I’m reviewing off MP3s so I don’t have the luxury of holding the physical object (but I had put my order in the day pre-orders became available).   I have access to a press release but I can’t tell you who produced.  I am told that Jim Moginie recorded it and it was mixed by Wayne Connolly.  The production on this disc is exceptional; a rock record mixed to accentuate the internal pop hooks.  This is the work of scientists.

It’s not an album that sounds like anyone else.  I can’t give you a cheap shot of “If you like this, try that”.  Instead the ghosts of rock and roll tumble through the mix.  A flash of stomp along glam here.  A touch of ‘60s arpeggios there.  An electric squall off to the left.  A pirouette of keyboards.  Jim Dickson, Dave Kettley and Brent Williams deliver a delightful witches brew.  New boy, Paul Larsen Loughhead provides that fantastic slow hand drumming that anchors the band perfectly.   Like the church of the latter day Charlie Watts, he appears to do nothing and yet delivers dynamite.   He is the drummer this band has always needed; someone who has the sheer skill not to over rev the engine.

But everyone earns their gold star on this album.  Everyone brings their best game.

Rob Younger’s voice sits atop the bubbling cauldron of noise.  Too often he has been buried in the mix.  There is a fragility at the edge of his masculinity and – in terms of a great record – it is better exposed than covered.  There’s some new phrasings and assault plans.  The presentation of “ It Means Everything” has learnt something from the Hit’s Evil Dick.  Proof positive that you can teach some old dogs new tricks.  This is a truly great vocal performance.  Considered yet seething.  Special bonus points for the phrase “dipshits down the beach” on “Waves Form”; a line only Rob could deliver so casually.

Stand out songs?  You may as well list everything.  I’ll go out on a limb here.  Album of the year.  Five bottles barely covers it.  Get on the net and pre-order it, you flaming ingrates. - Bob Short

Out in Australia on June 6. Overseas release date to be announced.

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This is high tensile rock and roll by one of the last surviving Australian bands of this ilk. The New Christs comfortably slip into overdrive at the outset but the attack is not as obviously in your face as you might expect. There are guitars and the usual half-shrouded lyrics about sexual politics and disenchantment. Lots of venom - but this time the cobra is spitting in your eye before striking.

These songs are as much about feel and texture as pure rock. They surge, pulse and sometimes hold back a fraction - but don’t mistake that for any slacking off on the intensity pedal. Long gone are the days when Rob Younger would stand and bellow. He’s singing in a measured and calculated way. Like “Gloria”, its predecessor,“Incantations” has its share of nagging, serrated edge songs but sounds more like a cranial implant that’s burning its way through your brain. Expect to be no so much pummelled as prodded and provoked.

The sonic work of Jim Moginie (Midnight Oil) behind the console (it was recorded in his studio) is spot-on. Rob’s vocal is in starker relief than on some past efforts. The economical guitar-work of Dave Kettley and Brent Williams works in sympathy that comes from years of touring together. The relative inactivity in the Celibate Rifles camp is the New Christs’ gain with Paul Larsen Loughhead slotting in to Stu Wilson’s drumming stool after originally being on loan for a European tour. In the pocket with power. 

Picking the many influences is near impossible but they’re nowhere near as restricted as some of the more cliched critical appraisals will tell you. The Stooges this is not. Younger’s musical memory bank is bigger than his LP collection and it shows.

Opener “Ghostlike” is an emphatic enough opener, coloured by Williams’ keyboard washes and the characteristically strident Younger vocal. Then the surf-like “Waves Form” kicks in with rolling drums and churning, frothy guitars. “We Are Lovers” is reserved with understated guitar and a shimmering thread of melody. “It Means Everything” throws it all into the rock grinder with wah-wah spread over the top.

It’s the lighter songs - “We Are Lovers”, “This Is A Party”, the mid-tempo kiss-off “Unless” and the reflective “The Golden Street” - that provide the diversions that lift “Incantations” to another level. This band’s always spent time in this territory but these tunes are the pay-off. “The Golden Street”, in particular, works a charm with backing vocals and a choice Kettley solo kicking it up a notch. There’s no shortage of menace in the crawling “Precious Little”, where the song uncoils to reveal a nicely placed Williams piano passage.

Well-rounded, challenging and indispensable. - The Barman

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Tags: rob, younger, new christs, incantations, impedance records,

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