I get a little wistful over things that have practically disappeared. Things that have fully disappeared I’ve let go. There’s more than an air of finality about them, and it makes it easier to move on. I’ve made my peace with the cancellation of Firefly. All good things must come to an end. But there are some things that still exist, but are simply hard to find. Whether it’s an out of print CD like the Silencers’ A Letter From St. Paul (which I finally found!), or a simple bag of Munchos washed down with a Cactus Cooler, or Funyuns with a Fresca, there are just times when obscurity leads to reverential dreaminess. That’s how I’ve felt about the Church for the last 20 years. The band has still existed all this time, but after my relative disappointment with Gold Afternoon Fix, and their subsequent decline in exposure, they’ve been way out on the periphery.
However, the truth is, even at their peak, with 1988’s Starfish, they were still somewhat to the left of the spotlight. “Under the Milky Way” was a modest hit for them, but it has since grown in stature thanks to oodles of nostalgic ’80s compilations and a timely inclusion in Donnie Darko. But, “Reptile,” “Hotel Womb” and “Spark” were also fantastic songs that didn’t quite get their due. Not getting any due is a theme that would stick with the members of the Church as they would release album after album as a group, as well as numerous solo collections. In the United States, they’ve mostly fallen on deaf ears. My wistfulness for things just out of reach has been both escalated and sated by the release of not one but two albums from the main members of the Church. Nightjar is the eighth album from Marty Willson-Piper, half of the band’s songwriting team and lead guitarist. And while partner Steve Kilbey released an album of psychedelic space rock, Willson-Piper’s songs are more folk and dreamy ’60s pop affairs.
I suppose the two albums, if smushed together, would perfectly sum up the sound of the Church, but separate they are just as captivating. Willson-Piper’s vocals throughout Nightjar recall Nick Drake’s soothing coos. This is certainly the case when hearing the gorgeous “Lullaby for the Lonely.” One could also say that if Kilbey is the Church’s Syd Barrett, then Willson-Piper is their David Gilmour. Nowhere is that more evident than on “The Sniper,” as his vocals stretch out over meditative and complex rhythms, making time for a few well-placed guitar solos. “Feed Your Mind” is a standout little story song that can undoubtedly lift even the lowliest of spirits. The sad tale of Victor Jara, a Chilean songwriter murdered in the 1973 coup, is the inspiration for “Songs for Victor Jara,” a moving Dylan-esque ballad that can stand alongside other tracks that mention his name including U2’s “One Tree Hill,” the Clash’s “Washington Bullets,” Calexico’s “Victor Jara’s Hands” and Apostle of Hustle’s “Fast Pony for Victor Jara.” Throughout the album’s ten songs, Willson-Piper strums and calmly sings as if the weight of the world is off his shoulders, making it a soothing and enjoyable affair.
Solo albums by artists who are more famous for being in a band can either triumph so well that the artist eventually transcends the band (i.e., Morrissey, Ryan Adams, Peter Gabriel, Beyoncé, Justin Timberlake) or simply fall flat on their face (i.e., every other solo artist from N*Sync, all members of Kiss). But these solo albums from Steve Kilbey and Marty Willson-Piper are far different animals. First of all, unlike most solo efforts, these songs are not an attempt to capitalize on any kind of populous momentum. They’re not power or money grabs. Each artist waited almost a decade since their last efforts to release these collections, a set of songs to merely satisfy their own artistic cravings. The end result is that we are the beneficiaries of these musings. Nightjar is more than just a bit of obscure detritus from a once popular songwriter. It’s a testament to a long-standing talent who continues to hone his craft.
Nick Drake- Bryter Layter
Pink Floyd- A Momentary Lapse of Reason
The Byrds- Younger Than Yesterday