Sex Church's 2011 full-length Growing Over traversed the spectrum of gloominess. Above straight-forward song structures delivered at a brisk pace, layers of dense guitar revealed pastoral introspection, negativity and mean-spirited dissonance with equal ease. As if each track sought to articulate a particular variety of darkness through a turgid clamor. Growing Over was Sex Church come to fruition. It represented the depressive mood we associate with death rock but thankfully dropped the cheekiness. The Vancouver quartet's bleak and downtrodden aesthetic was effective and they penned enough varied material to make the full-length compelling throughout. At times, Growing Over even revealed a pop sensibility, if only as a momentary respite from the inevitable plunge back into anguish. Other times, the dense sonic treatment was psychedelic in the paisley underground sense of pastoral.
Sex Church's latest offering, Somnambulist, doesn't contain the variety of Growing Over, but with only three tracks that clock in at nearly 20 minutes, it's an effective decision for the group to hone its focus. A singleness of purpose is evident. The group demonstrated its ability to pen songs for a wider audience, but Somnambulist is written for the few who are reminded of childhood by the phrase “Sex Church.” That is, an audience familiar with abject misery (or the moonlighting fashionable depressives amongst us.)
Cultivating a downtrodden sonic mood isn’t enough to make a song endure, though. Such a mood can largely be distilled into a formula. Dissonance, density, anguished vocals – these things without a compelling song structure, lyrics and individual instrumental performances are largely wasted. With the current trend in rock towards the technology and ambiance of 1980’s negative-wave, we increasingly find mastery of the ostensible sonic aesthetic, but it’s more often a triumph of style of over substance.
Somnambulist, in defiance of the trend, is comprised of three songs whose innate characteristics are only enhanced by the surface-level dejection. “Hidden Hand” begins in a murky bog of dissonance, synthesizer flourishes and primitive tom-tom berating. Shadows dodge behind silhouettes and terror resides in the periphery. At every appropriate moment, when the track begins to beg for a change, the once tremolo-ridden guitar swiftly ascends into sharp, incremental half-step riffs. The change is a respite, like lurching up from a puddle on the verge of drowning. By extension, the final segment of this opening track strikes the middle ground between asphyxiation and gasping. Neither desperate nor hysterical, listeners can only be relieved and reflective, but Somnambulist doesn’t dwell long in introspection.
“Wrong Side,” the track which occupies this EP’s entire B-side at nearly nine minutes long, is more like drowning without respite. The vocals become increasingly anguished, instruments verge into complete saturation and the clamorous affair dissipates without resolution. Somnambulist is ridden with the sense of encroaching doom. It clutches your mane and thrusts your skull underwater with not just a vague, aesthetic darkness, but song-writing that actually cultivates a narrative to your despair.