The Church lost many fans in the 1990s when it began to favor meandering grooves that seduced via atmosphere rather than hooks. But while the absence of accessible pop gems meant that the prolific Australian quartet disappeared from the airwaves, its ability to bend melodies into heart-fluttering beauty never wavered. (In fact, 2002's After Everything Now This, all layers of pensive shoe-gazing and dusky melancholy, is a worthy bargain-bin grab.) After 2003's disappointing Forget Yourself, it's heartening to hear The Church's focus on its new studio album, Uninvited, Like the Clouds. Pointed stair-step riffs skip through "Unified Field," while spry jangle and an ebullient backbeat help "Easy" become the most accessible song The Church has crafted since 1990's "Metropolis." Even the album's meticulously layered slow burners (like "Overview," a piano-moody tune akin to the murky prog crafted by U.K. cult figures Elbow) remain free of excess bells and whistles. Although the middle of Clouds floats too high into the Pink Floyd ether -- the classic-rock guitar shards and ambient drone have the eerie quiet of an uneasy, solitary spacewalk -- ornate wordplay and Steve Kilbey's ageless conspiratorial vocals keep the disc grounded. The Church sounds absolutely nothing like any other band playing today; thankfully, neither does Clouds.
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