Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Bend Me, Shape Me #3: Unearthed

the gateway album.

In 1988, Australian band The Church broke onto the US charts in a big way with the moody, ethereal single "Under the Milky Way". I loved loved loved it and after buying the accompanying album Starfish I started digging into the band's back catalog. Not only were they prolific as a band, but there were solo projects available by the lead singer and songwriter Steve Kilbey as well as lead guitarist Marty Willson-Piper.

Cover art color scheme prepares you for something unusual

Oddly enough, I became much bigger fans of the two solo records I bought than any Church album in my collection. I don't listen to Willson-Piper's Art Attack as much now as i did then (which was quite a bit- it's excellent), but the Kilbey record Unearthed became one of my favorite records of all time, and is still in heavy rotation at the Word Player home 20 years later.

Originally released in 1986, Unearthed is a classic example of a "bedroom record": it feels like it was made in a bedroom and it's best listened to in bedroom conditions. When I was a bachelor, I fell asleep almost every night with headphones on or music playing low on the stereo, and this album has taken me into the dream world hundreds of times.

"Otherworldly" is a good place to start, adjective-wise. The album is both stylistically diverse and thematically cohesive. Sometimes it feels like Renaissance psychedelia, then on to proto-electronica, and even dream sequence soundtrack music from a lost science fiction film.

Weaving dissolving patterns
Forming our uncertain terms
Passing into history
Going to the worms
I'll wait for you forever
In my house all white with dust
Falling into lonely hours
Let the engines rust


Makes me think of The Martian Chronicles...

He has the look of a shaman about him, no?

Kilbey's lyrics are vague, emotional and surreal, and even the instrumental tracks seem to communicate something palpable beyond simple mood. This is music to get lost to for sure.

It's hard sometimes to identify favorite songs on a favorite album, but in terms of "which songs have made it onto the most mixtapes" there are two clear-cut winners.

The first is "Tyrant", a pulsating, droning ode that seems to be saying more than it says (which, I know, isn't saying much).

Undignified, uncivilized, but always worth a thrill
There's never been a world that didn't end
Unquantified, uncategorized, until we pay the bill
Never ever borrow what you lend

The other track's name says it all, in a way. "My Birthday, the Moon Festival". It's simultaneously absurd and beautiful. What more can you ask for?

My birthday, the moon festival
My life in the sea of tears

My holiday, a misadventure
My soul, a short career
Like a lizard the road crawls forward
Into regions unexplored
By their boats the Mayans stirred
Gold and silver soon flow aboard
My birthday, the moon festival
My legs a wisp of ghost
My clothing, cotton under paper
My shoes, a sharpened post
My birthday, the moon festival

**If you're new to the site, the goal of the Bend Me, Shape Me series can be found here.**


steve kilbey said...

hey word player
the lyrics are actually
a party of oaks with minds of earth
gold n silver...soon floorboards
maybe yours were better
loved yer article

Mr. Word Player said...

wow. WOW. WOWOWOWOWOWOW! SK in the house y'all.