In the beginning there was Pivot, improvisational Australian five-piece. For legal reasons, Pivot dropped vowels, embraced consonants, slimmed to a trio, and begot PVT. And it is good. Their third album and second for Warp Records, Church With No Magic, is a striking testament to the importance of having explored the musical margins before aiming for the center, of consolidating strengths, and of just how cool indecipherable chanting can sound over raucous live drumming. Take, for example, album opener “Community,” which sounds like choir practice inside a physics lab.
Calling a band experimental can induce doubts of their accessibility. Not to worry. PVT aren’t so much cutting-edge experimental as cut-and-paste experimental, incorporating older influences and reinventing through homage. Church With No Magic culls recognizable elements and expands on them; parts of the record sound like early Depeche Mode and late ’70s era Bowie, with shoegazer flourishes in the group’s quieter moments. “Light Up Bright Fires” and “Waves and Radiation” borrow their intros from the Boards of Canada playbook. You’ve heard all this before, but never quite like this.
Richard Pike deserves special recognition for never losing his vocals to histrionics while wringing every possible expression from his impressive range. “The Quick Mile” raises his voice from whisper to wail before surrendering to skittish electronic drums. “Timeless” drops three minutes of similar plaintive singing into the oscilloscope, and then races towards a throbbing finale of upset keyboard swells. “Only The Wind Can Hear You” dispatches echo and effect for refreshing clarity, as he repeats “what’s the matter with you?” over woozy synths, quietly punctuating the album’s final track with more of a period than a question mark.
Warp’s iconoclasm works well as a repository for the Aussies’ combined contributions, the tendrils of their various side-projects, which include Prefuse 73, Flanger, and mope-rocker Bill Callahan, which is what makes this album’s cohesive approach such a pleasant surprise. Even more so than on their 2008 debut, O Soundtrack My Heart, the band colors within the lines, never giving in to indulgence or overwrought atmospherics in their moody songs. Church With No Magic sounds down in the heels but high in the head; a maudlin monster stitched from stolen sources. Thankfully they’ve managed to lift from all the right places.